STATEMENT: Wisconsin Supreme Court Missed an Opportunity to Address Its Ethical Shortcomings, Says CAP’s Michele L. Jawando

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected a request from more than 50 retired judges to tackle the issue of judicial recusal in cases involving judges’ campaign contributors. In recent years, judicial recusal has become a more pressing issue, not only in Wisconsin but also in states and localities across the United States, as large amounts of money pour into state supreme court races. Michele L. Jawando, Vice President for Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress, issued the following statement:

The Wisconsin Supreme Court missed an opportunity today to dispel the dark cloud of impropriety that has surrounded the court’s conservative majority in recent years.

The court’s ethics rules say campaign contributions can never be the sole reason for a judge’s recusal. This rule was literally written by two big business groups that spent large sums to elect the conservative justices. When one of these big business groups faced a criminal campaign finance investigation, the Wisconsin Supreme Court shut it down despite a $10 million conflict of interest. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has become the poster child for the problem of money in judicial elections.

The judges’ petition drew wide support from the public, from Wisconsin editorial boards, and national, bipartisan campaign finance reform groups. The petition cited a 2014 report from the Center for American Progress that called for stronger ethics rules for elected judges. The Center for American Progress continues to support much-needed reform.

Experts from the Center for American Progress are available to speak on this topic. To coordinate an interview, please contact Tanya Arditi at or 202.741.6258.