Conservatives On Wisconsin Supreme Court Let Corporate Lobbyists Write Judicial Ethics Rules

Wisconsin elects its Supreme Court justices, but the court’s four conservative justices — including Gov. Scott Walker’s embattled ally Justice David Prosser — all voted to reject an ethics rule that would have prevented them from hearing cases involving their major campaign donors. Instead, the conservative justices enacted a rule written by powerful corporate lobbyists:

Those justices, including Justice David Prosser, who is running for re-election April 5, voted 4–3 against proposed rules that would have required them and other state judges to recuse themselves from cases in which one of the litigants had contributed more than $1,000 to their election campaign.

Wisconsin’s League of Women Voters and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign had suggested the rules, which were vigorously opposed by the big business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, and the state’s Realtors Association, both of which are heavy contributors to court races. When they spend a lot of money to elect a justice, of course, they want to make sure the justice gets to vote.

The four conservative justices not only declined to adopt the league’s suggestions, but instead of writing their own guidelines, they opted to enact without any changes the “rules” written by WMC and the Realtors Association, which leave the decision of whether to recuse to the justices themselves. So much for appearance of judicial conflicts of interest worrying the Wisconsin high court.

Sadly, this is not the only example of Prosser fighting hard to protect his colleagues from judicial ethics rules. Last year, during a debate over whether one of his colleagues should be required to recuse from certain cases, Prosser erupted at the state’s chief justice, calling her a “bitch” and threatening to “destroy” her.


Prosser has also come under fire for his campaign’s promise that he would use his position on the state’s highest court to advance Gov. Walker’s corporate agenda. His reelection campaign claimed that Prosser’s views “closely mirror” those of the state’s anti-worker governor, and that Prosser would “protect[] the conservative judicial majority and act[] as a common sense complement” to Walker if he is reelected.