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State of Wisconsin

Judicial Selection in the States: Wisconsin

Overview

News

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Wisconsin judiciary consists of the supreme court, the court of appeals, the circuit court, and municipal courts. Judges are chosen in nonpartisan elections in the spring of each year. Only one supreme court justice and one court of appeals judge in each district may be elected in a given year.

Wisconsin has seen increasing levels of contributions to and spending by judicial candidates in recent years. Spending in a supreme court race topped the million-dollar mark for the first time in 1999. The 2009 supreme court race between incumbent chief justice Shirley Abrahamson and challenger Randy Koschnick was the first in the last three where candidate spending was higher than spending by special interest groups. A total of $2.1 million was spent by the candidates and outside groups. The $1.37 million spent by Abrahamson was the second-highest ever by a supreme court candidate. For more information, see the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's Hijacking Campaign 2009.

In November 2009, the Impartial Justice bill was signed into law, creating a public financing system for judicial elections. The program provides up to $400,000 of initial public financing for supreme court candidates. The law also reduces contribution limits for candidates who opt out of public financing from $10,000 to $1,000. The groups that worked to achieve this reform include Wisconsin Citizen Action, Common Cause in Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.