The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted 12-7 to approve the nomination of former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler Jr. to be U.S. District Court Judge for the Western District of Wisconsin.
Appointed to the state Supreme Court by Gov. Jim Doyle, Butler wrote several opinions that dismayed business groups and doctors. As summarized by The Wall Street Journal in a Nov. 19 editorial:
In Ferdon v. Wisconsin Partners, he drew the rage of doctors and others when he dismantled the state's limit on noneconomic damages in medical malpractices cases--the kind of tort reform that had been serving the state well. Business groups were likewise floored by his decision in Thomas v. Mallet, which allowed "collective liability" in lead paint cases--making any company a potential target, regardless of whether they made the paint in question. His nickname as a public defender was "Loophole Louis," a name that stuck when, as a judge, he was considered to be soft on crime.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking Republican, cited both cases in objecting to Butler's record and argued that Butler displayed an "extreme activist judicial philosophy and a temperament as such that disqualifies him for a lifetime appointment." Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) also criticized Butler's disregard for precedent, citing the issue of malpractice caps and tying that ruling into the Senate's discussions of health care reform.
Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) hailed Butler's record, qualifications, and intellect and called him, as an African-America "a trailblazer in our state." Feingold also rejected the argument that, since Wisconsin voters had twice defeated Butler at the polls he should not rise to the federal bench.
- Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel blog report.
- Butler's Committee Questionnaire
- Butler's Questions For The Record
(The discussion of Butler's nomination starts about 50 minutes into the committee's webcast.)