eirias: (Default)
2011-04-05 05:53 pm

specific problem, general problem

Headline in the New York Times today: Wisconsin Election is Referendum on Governor
Unfortunately, the headline isn't strictly true, because we're actually electing a Supreme Court Justice. But you know, careful deliberative justice, grassroots partisan political movement, what's the diff?

A recurring theme in my thoughts lately is: when you're in a game with rules you dislike, how do you choose your move? Do you act according to your own principles? Or do you choose the move that will best serve your interests, given the rules as they are?

Left to my own devices, I try to construe my self-interest broadly: I much prefer to act in accordance with general principles that make my conscience quiet than to act in a way that gives me short-term gains, but presupposes long-term losses. In the case of the Supreme Court race, the long-term losses are twofold. I hate judicial elections because judgments ought to follow the Constitution, not popular will. (Anyone who is a minority of any kind -- which is, I suspect, most of my readers -- should be conscious of this.) And I hate this one in particular because the circus that surrounds it is a reminder of what happens when that is not true: leaders think it's OK to ignore court orders, and their base agrees. Judicial impartiality, like human rights generally, is a collective delusion; but if we lose the delusion, I don't see how we can preserve a decent society.

Nevertheless, I can't change the game by pretending I'm playing a different one. The rules of the judicial game in Wisconsin, and the stakes in this particular election, both encourage a partisan view. Prosser has not done much in the last year to win my affection; he hasn't written any recent opinions and he seems to vote with a bloc whose decisions, on balance, I don't like that much. He issued a press release in December allying himself with Walker, which is not really appropriate for an ostensibly nonpartisan campaign. The court itself is reportedly contentious and dysfunctional and he is rumored to be a large part of that; at one point last year, in a dispute related to official court business, he admits to calling the Chief Justice a bitch and threatening to destroy her. (Today's research at least taught me that I DO like the Chief Justice -- she is a scholar and her opinions show it.) I gather Prosser is not the only inappropriate person on the bench, but changing the lineup sounds wise and he's the one whose term is up. Overall, I think that my short-term self-interest will be served in two ways if Prosser is removed.

But it doesn't have to stop there. Years ago, apropos of I-don't-know-what, [livejournal.com profile] dolohov reminded me that democracy doesn't end on election day. Perhaps a gentle curmudgeonly rant about judicial elections is in order, for some place more public than here.