|Ann Walsh Bradley is the name on the ballot to|
re-elect, but there is more to April 7 election.
But there is such a statewide election April 7, one of the few ballot chances this year that speak to the land’s hottest fever for effective democratic action that elected officials will hear loud and clear. This election if you dig deep directly combats the partisanship that has so severely gridlocked and eroded faith in our court system. So voters right and left could use this April 7 to rise up and say “Enough!” If they stop the court shenanigans emanating from political bigwigs, Madison will have to reconsider much that is on their playing table. The vote can restack the deck.
But it takes work and subtleties not popular in the mass media. I spoke to two dozen people yesterday who didn’t even know there was an election April 7. Sure enough the contests sound pretty mundane, judicial issues and many uncontested regional races. The majority of voters probably won’t bother because of that – election insiders predict less than 15% turnout. Amazing. Despite recent history the citizens don’t seem to realize they are about to be outmaneuvered again by a handful of political insiders who do pay attention.
But one question on the ballot requires voter consent to any change in the constitution. That’s something even some liberal media doesn’t seem to realize when they say Scott Walker has pulled off another supreme court coup April 7. No he hasn’t. That coup vanishes if the voters speak out. They can confound expectations by opposing Joint Resolution 1.
This resolution is disguised for all sides as a house cleaning technical change to the state constitution. It is actually an unsavory legislative attempt to overrule previous voter choice and abandon a proven 126-year-old method of choosing the chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court by tenure. It is clearly aimed at sidelining Wisconsin’s most respected justice and proven court administrator (the duty of the chief justice), Shirley Abrahamson, four years before voters get a say about her at the polls.
Once voters realize the real goal and halt this resolution, they can then pivot in the same election and re-elect a proven justice, Ann Walsh Bradley. Though labeled by the GOP as part of the liberal wing, they must mean the integrity wing. In her 20 years on the high court I have never seen her be about political camps as much as legal research and reasoning.
The political insiders are hoping we’re dumb enough to give their side a twofer. They hope through the camouflage of house cleaning they can manipulate enough voters who think eliminating tradition in the state constitution is some sort of progress. And second, while the thinking vote is clearly in Bradley’s corner, the GOP hopes that if they yell liberal loud enough they can find enough rabid partisans to bounce her as well. You know who tends to turn out in such races when the majority voters aren't paying attention. There is a presumption at work here that is universally insulting for a nonpartisan race -- that justice is simply another appendage of political power, not something that benefits from experience, judgment and balance.
|Her name isn't on the ballot but Chief Justice|
Shirley Abrahamson is the real target.
But it’s partisan interference in campaigns and hostile ideological attitudes that bring shame to our judicial system, almost forcing the federal courts to step in as much as they don’t want to. One thing the feds have respected is Abrahamson, once considered for the US Supreme Court. She has been a firm rudder of independence and higher ideals of how state courts should operate. Yet these novice GOPers would prefer a revolving door of changing chief justices of their choice to control what issues come through the court system. She’s been quite effective despite all that sensationalism from the right in encouraging education programs and modernized justice operations. She has kept her wits and stability despite the arrows, attacks on her age and anti-intellectual arrogance thrown out by back benchers pretending to belong in the front row.
Knowing her reputation, the GOP has cunningly made sure her name is not on the ballot. That hasn’t hidden she is the target. A broad swath of the media and respected legal authorities have joined citizens around the state in calling Joint Resolution 1 what it is -- the “vendetta resolution” or, more nakedly from veteran watchdog Bill Lueders, the “we hate Shirley amendment.”
|Geske outspoken about real target.|
Abrahamson’s commitment to the law and independence grow in importance for a Wisconsin suffering the “bought side” of the state justices who received $8.3 million in campaign support over seven years from the Koch related groups that frequently have business with the court -- Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Wisconsin Club for Growth and other ancillary groups that have given their chosen candidates much more than twice the money their own campaigns raised. We’re talking mainly in order of money Michael Gableman, Annette Ziegler, David Prosser and Patricia Roggensack, who once was not dismissed as a partisan go-along but now seems to have changed from right-of-middle to gung-ho protector of her most extreme flank.
Obviously these justices expect something other than a handshake for all that opinionated big money reliant on sympathetic court opinion. Bradley has never been that way and she has sat on the high court for 20 years. A high school teacher, then private lawyer, then circuit judge before 1995 election to the top court, she boasts bipartisan support, powerful backing from elected judges and law enforcement officials and a steady record highly preferred to Republican opponent James Daley, a Rock County circuit judge who has fumbled media interviews.
The fumbles came when he ducked a key issue of this campaign while Bradley hasn’t. She is an outspoken opponent of the “increasing role of partisan and special-interest groups in shaping and influencing the high court. “ Bradley, unlike the GOP partisans trying referenda trickery aimed at Abrahamson, believes that open votes on the ballot are the way to restore fairness and comity to the high court.
Daley instead is playing a duplicitous game, pretending bipartisanship on the trail while catering on social media to the extreme right and taking the equivalent of $7,000 in staff and consulting from the state Republican Party. Bradley has called him out for so openly relying on one side while pretending he will be neutral on the bench. Meanwhile he has been caught in interviews admitting that large outside contributions could look corrupting yet refusing to criticize his conservative colleagues for doing just that.
Bradley has had some advertising fun of her own pushing back with the opposition’s own methods. Usually it’s the right-wing that goes after candidates as soft on crime, but on the Internet she let them hang one of their own, using a rant by conservative talk radio’s Mark Belling slamming Daley for letting a vicious child abuser off lightly. Her point is simple – if even the right-wing mouths don’t trust his record, why should their voters?
However, Bradley is not campaigning on the main issue that brought her headlines in 2011. This was the case when conservative darling Prosser put his hands around her neck, she has said, in an attempt to strangle her, which fits his reputation for temper. He said he was trying to restrain her passion as they argued a case.
That resulted in probes of the “chokehold incident” but Prosser has the one-vote conservative majority on the court and his buddies proclaimed ignorance of what happened. When the designated state agency on judicial conduct, the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, charged Prosser with violating judicial ethics of conduct in 2012, any further action by them was blocked by his ideological buddies.
Bradley is putting partisan bias center stage April 7 – for solid judicial reasons. After all, it was a conservative US Supreme Court in 2009 that went after a West Virginia justice for not recusing himself when he took nearly $3 million in campaign money from a coal mine owner before ruling in the donor’s favor. After that clear expression of outrage from the highest court in the land, other states took steps to strengthen their recusal rules in cases of flagrantly large and result-pointed financial donations.
Not Wisconsin right-wingers. In 2010 in a resolution WMC helped write, the high court said size of financial contributions should not be the sole reason for recusal. The rationale was curious. What if to embarrass conservative justices, someone in the other camp – oh, say, like wealthy George Soros -- gave them a lot of money to force them to recuse? Frankly it’s doubtful that the left is as eager as the right to waste millions of dollars on a blocking move rather than an issue of conscience. But the “what if” was a tacit admission that no one gives such enormous money without expecting special favors. Not surprisingly Bradley issued an outraged dissent.
Today after months of trying to dodge any case involving hefty campaign money and possible instructions from those same rich backers whose largesse they enjoyed, the state high court has been forced to take up three John Doe cases with exactly that conundrum. Imagine their dilemma! They know their masters in Madison and in the Koch world are expecting them to halt all such John Does yet they also know the US Supremes, who have the bigger whip, are also watching. To make it tougher, both the John Doe special prosecutor, a known Republican, and many major law professors have gone to court to say the conservative justices should recuse themselves.
To know how ethics ought to work, the conservatives on the court and in the voting booth could just ask Bradley. She has recused herself from the John Doe cases because of a narrow reason -- her son once practiced law with an attorney in the case. That is a sensitivity Wisconsin desperately needs to keep.
Contrast that with the GOP legislative majority bile. They are not waiting on the courts or frankly the voters. The GOP in March introduced a bill that would curb John Doe powers ahead of any court decision. And, with some of the same sponsors, a companion bill to Joint Resolution 1 is moving through the legislature– a blatant example of ageism by attempting to remove Abrahamson midterm from office because her age, 81, is the same as Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s. Apparently the GOP did not notice that their right-wing Supreme hero, Antonin Scalia, is 79 and the attempt to equate age with sharpness is not a winning argument with the older voters the conservatives have long counted on.
Our system of checks and balances has been turned into a system of big checks and big imbalances. Wisconsin voters shouldn’t need the lessons of Selma to understand how only consistent voting can reverse this mess.