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Van Hollen to appeal decision allowing judges to be partisan

By Chris Rizo | Mar 18, 2009

J.B. Van Hollen (R)

MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline)-The Wisconsin attorney general said Wednesday he plans to appeal a court decision that state judges can be active in party politics.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he plans to ask the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the ruling last month by Chief U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb that state judges may join political parties, endorse partisan candidates and solicit campaign donations.

"Wisconsin has a long history of electing non partisan judges," Van Hollen said. "Wisconsin does not want judges who align themselves with partisan, political interests in order to seek judicial office and hit up people for campaign donations."

In a lawsuit, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge John Siefert challenged Wisconsin Judicial Commission rules banning jurists from political involvement. He said the rules ran roughshod over his First Amendment right to free speech.

"Although many in the legal community demonize judicial elections and exalt a system of appointment, a 'merit" selection process has its own flaws and is no guarantee that the judiciary will be free from partisan bias or the perception of it," Crabb wrote in a 65-page opinion.

In her opinion, Crabb referenced the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of the Republican Party of Minnesota v. White in which the high court affirmed the free speech rights of judicial candidates.

"Reviewing these canons in light of the Supreme Court's opinion in White and defendants' failure to show that any of the rules challenged by plaintiff is narrowly tailored to promote a compelling state interest, as required under the First Amendment, I must conclude that the rules at issue do not withstand strict scrutiny," she wrote.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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