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Editorial: Weeks Later, Wisconsin Court Recusal Issue Remains

Wisconsin_flag_mapA lengthy Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel editorial, in the wake of a state Supreme Court decision ending a campaign finance investigation (see Gavel Grab), called the court “polarized and dysfunctional” and said a conflict-of-interest issue involving some of its members has not gone away.

Among the important questions remaining, the editorial said, is the following: “Should two of the justices whose campaigns received heavy support from the groups under investigation and involved as litigants before the court have heard the cases?” It said a special prosecutor asked for recusal by Justices Michael Gableman and David Prosser, and they did not step aside from hearing the case.

The editorial urged Gov. Scott Walker to “to show good faith, be true to his past words in support of transparency regarding campaign contributions, and initiate bipartisan action to resolve these questions.” Read more

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Editorial: Campaign Finance Disclosure Law Needed in Wisconsin

In the wake of a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that some critics see as gutting the state’s campaign finance law (see Gavel Grab), a Madison.com editorial calls on the state legislature to pass legislation to shine a light on political “dark money.”

The editorial criticized the ruling of a “hyperpartisan and politicized majority” of the court, and then urged the legislature to adopt legislation like that passed by some other states to require that so-called dark money groups disclose their larger donors.

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Opinion: Wisconsin Court Rightly Labeled a ‘Political Body’?

A New Yorker commentary by Lincoln Caplan takes a critical look at the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s recent ruling that quashed a campaign finance investigation involving Gov. Scott Walker, and it suggests the ruling may have national implications.

You can learn more from Gavel Grab about how the issue of judicial recusal was handled in the 4-2 ruling. Caplan wrote this about recusal:  “The highly political nature of the election, or reëlection, of the court’s conservative justices, between 2007 and 2013, and the highly political nature of their rejection of the traditional recusal rule have for half a decade made the court vulnerable to charges that it has become a political body. With their decision to halt a major criminal investigation of the sitting governor, who is running for President, and to do so by gutting the state law regulating campaign finance, the conservatives have confirmed the weight of those charges.” Read more

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Does Wisconsin Ruling Drain Public Confidence in High Court?

There is more fierce debate on op-ed pages about the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s recent decision that quashed a campaign finance investigation of alleged coordination between Gov. Scott Walker and conservative groups in 2011 and 2012 recall elections (see Gavel Grab).

Matt Rothschild of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a Justice at Stake partner organization, warned in a Madison.com op-ed that as a result of the high court’s decision, “our democracy will be drowning in a sea of dark money.” He also contended that given spending by some of the conservative groups that benefitted current justices, the recent ruling “is draining the public’s confidence in the integrity of our courts.”

An alternate view came from Bloomberg View columnist Megan McArdle, who applauded the court ruling. She concluded, “There are worse things than campaign finance violations. One of them is living in a nation where law-abiding citizens don’t know if they’re safe from ambitious prosecutors — especially prosecutors who can silence their targets at will.”

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Wisconsin ‘John Doe’ Ruling Stirs Ongoing Controversy

630px-Seal_of_WisconsinThe Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling that there were no violations of campaign finance laws by Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-recall campaign and conservative groups continues to stir controversy on both sides. The ruling in the “John Doe” case  effectively halted further investigation of the alleged collusion.

In a scorching commentary supporting the ruling, The National Review Online  said the investigation of alleged violations was nothing short of a “witch hunt” perpetrated by state Democrats.  A report in the Wisconsin State Journal noted that the Wisconsin court’s majority described the investigation as a “dragnet” involving “highly publicized raids” of private homes.

But a piece in the LaCrosse Tribune  focused on the failure of several state Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves, although they had benefited from millions of dollars in campaign spending by the same conservative groups at the center of the case.  Prosecutors might have the option to appeal the ruling in federal court, the Tribune suggested, citing legal experts who named the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in the landmark Caperton case as a possible precedent.

In the same Tribune piece a conservative legal scholar disagreed, noting that “if elected judges had to recuse themselves from cases involving groups that donate to their campaigns, then so would judges who were targets of campaign spending,” according to the report.  Rick Esenberg of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty told the paper that if a broad view of the Caperton decision were adopted, “‘it’s basically impossible to have judicial elections’ because there will always be an array of political parties supporting or opposing judges.”

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Kloppenburg to Seek Wisconsin Supreme Court Seat Again

Judge JoAnn Kloppenburg of Wisconsin’s Court of Appeals, who was narrowly defeated in 2011 for a high court seat by incumbent Justice David Prosser, announced on Friday she will run for the high court again.

Newscast Image from 2011

Newscast Image from 2011

She will seek in 2016 the seat currently held by Justice N. Patrick Crooks, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. It is not certain whether Justice Crooks, who is 77, will run for another 10-year term. He told colleagues last year he would not run, but he said in an interview this year he was considering seeking re-election and would decide by this fall.

The 2011 election was viewed widely as a referendum over new curbs on public employee unions spearheaded by Gov. Scott Walker, and it became a “bloody proxy fight for special interests from around the country,” Time magazine reported at the time. The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12, compiled by Justice at Stake and partner organizations, said the contest exemplified a “race to the bottom.” The race was concluded by a recount. Read more

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Wisconsin Court Feuding Extends to Hiring Director

Not only are Wisconsin’s Supreme Court justices fractured over who ought to be chief justice (see Gavel Grab), but now there is division over the court’s hiring of a temporary top administrator for the court.

“Supreme Court justices spar over hiring of court director,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The mini-ruckus follows voter approval of a constitutional amendment drafted by Republican legislators to change the way the chief justice is selected, and subsequently an email vote by the court’s conservatives to replace Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a liberal, with Justice Pat Roggensack, a conservative, at the court’s helm.

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Roggensack Denies Causing Turmoil on the Wisconsin High Court

Newly elected Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack has denied causing turmoil on the court in her new role, according to Wheeler News Service.

She made her statement in a legal filing in federal court, where a judge is scheduled to hear arguments on Friday over Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s contention that a voter-approved constitutional amendment changing the selection method for the chief justice should not be implemented now. The court’s conservative majority elected Justice Roggensack to serve as chief, replacing Abrahamson, after the constitutional amendment was certified.

In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, an article gave more details about a letter written by another Wisconsin justice (see Gavel Grab). The newspaper reported, “N. Patrick Crooks asks judge for transition plan on chief justice.” 

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Drama on Wisconsin Court: An Update

Almost each day there’s a new chapter in the drama unfolding in Madison, Wi. over who will win the title of chief justice, a dispute that’s in federal court following a voter-approved referendum last month and a vote by email of the court’s conservative members afterward.

Both Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Justice Patience Roggensack claim the title. The former has challenged in court the constitutional amendment approved in the referendum, which changed the way the chief justice is selected. Here is an update:

Associated Press, “Bradley supports blocking change in Wisconsin chief justice; cites court ‘upheaval’; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Court filing is latest turn in squabble over Wisconsin chief justice”;  urbanmilwaukee, “Abrahamson’s Suit Has Strong Legal Argument”; and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (blog), “State Supreme Court to release hundreds of pages in Doe probe on Wednesday.”

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Over Appeals Court Seat, Sparring by Wisconsin’s Two Senators

CapitolflagWisconsin’s two U.S. senators, without agreement from a bipartisan commission that vets prospective judicial nominees for them, are taking different paths over a vacancy on the Seventh U.S. Court of Appeals. Their disagreement could imperil the chances for an Obama nominee.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, sent the names of eight people interviewed by the commission to the White House, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican, said Baldwin was not heeding the commission’s rules, was pursuing a “strikingly partisan path” and the fallout would reduce a nominee’s prospects for confirmation.

A Baldwin aide said the senator sent the names to the White House because the vacancy was almost 2,000 days old and needed to be filled. The senator told the White House that the commission, which she and Johnson set up, could not agree on a list of finalists. Johnson, however, said Baldwin was departing from the nominating process the two senators had agreed to use. The Journal Sentinel said two district court judgeships were filled through this process earlier.

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