by Steven Ertelt
May 30, 2007
Madison WI (LifeNews.com) — When most candidates for elected office throw their name in the hat, it’s easy for pro-life organizations like Wisconsin Right to Life to ask them where they stand on important pro-life issues. The answers to the questions guide pro-life voters, but the group can’t ask candidates for judicial offices the same sorts of questions.
That problem could change now that the pro-life group has won a victory in court.
Federal District Court Judge John Shabaz has granted a permanent injunction against provisions of the Wisconsin Code of Judicial Conduct that prohibit state court judicial candidates from responding to a questionnaire asking their views on legal and political issues.
Wisconsin Right to Life had sent a questionnaire to candidates for judicial office in the November 2006 and April 2007 elections requesting that they state their views on policies and court decisions related to such matters as assisted suicide and abortion.
Several of the judicial candidates refused to return the questionnaire, stating that they could be disciplined for expressing their views by responding to the questions posed in such questionnaires
A 2006 opinion by the state’s Judicial Conduct Advisory Committee had found that judicial candidates were prohibited from announcing their views on disputed legal and political issues.
The District Court disagreed, finding that the provisions were unconstitutional to the extent that they prohibited candidates from announcing their views. The Court held that one of the provisions of Wisconsin’s Code, which required judges to recuse themselves if they had previously made statements that "appear to commit" the judges on issues likely to come before the court, was indistinguishable from a provision struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002.
That case, Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 US 765 (2002), found unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds a Minnesota rule that prohibited judicial candidates from "announcing their views on disputed legal or political issues."
Similarly, the District Court held that a Wisconsin Code provision prohibiting judicial candidates from making "pledges and promises" regarding future cases could not be used to prohibit candidates from answering Wisconsin Right to Life’s questionnaire.
James Bopp, a pro-life attorney who is the lead counsel for Wisconsin Right to Life, praised Judge Shabaz’s decision in a statement sent to LifeNews.com.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has clearly stated that judicial candidates have a right to respond to questionnaires like this and voters have a right to hear what they have to say," he said.
Bopp, who argued and won the White case, stated that Wisconsin’s rules and policy had been interpreted to "cover the same unconstitutional ground" as Minnesota’s rule that prohibited judicial candidates from announcing their views had done.
Barbara Lyons, Wisconsin Right to Life Executive Director, said, "This is a tremendous win for the judicial election process in Wisconsin and for the voters who deserve to know the views of the judicial candidates they are voting for."
The Wisconsin case is Duwe v. Alexander, No. 06-C-0766-S (W>D> Wis. May 29,2007.