May 6, 2015

Destruction of Wisconsin Supreme Court Draws National Derision

When news broke in 2012 that Scott Walker appointed members to a state judicial watchdog agency— charged with enforcing high standards of judicial ethics—based on fidelity to the Republican Party and not ethics, observers should have concluded Walker wanted to corrupt the courts (Millhiser, ThinkProgress) (Marley, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) (Kemble, The Progressive).

Wisconsin corporate media largely ignores the fact that the third branch of government has become corrupted under the tenure of Scott Walker, and the four GOP members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court openly see themselves as beholden to their rightwing campaign contributors.

Nationally, the media is taking notice. Lincoln Caplan's piece in The New Yorker correctly points to The Destruction of the Wisconsin Supreme Court as a consequence of money funneled on behalf of justices and abandonment of public integrity "during the governorship of Scott Walker."

Supreme Court Justice Pat Roggensack defends this massive infusion of money in judicial elections and the refusal of justices to recuse themselves from cases where litigants have funded the justices' election.

Roggensack's arguments are absurd. "We have an elective system and the judges are presumed to be honest, fair and independent. So we have to be careful that in our efforts here about recusal, we don't basically besmirch the judiciary as a whole" (WPR, 2013).

Supreme Court elections in Wisconsin are held in April and are low-turnout affairs typically drawing 20-some percent of the electorate.

Roggensack's statement that judges are presumed to be honest, fair and independent show a politician either completely out-of-touch or, in Roggensack's case, corrupt and a disgrace to the bench.

Writes Caplan:
Last week, the United States Supreme Court upheld a Florida judicial rule that prohibits candidates for election to state judgships from personally soliciting money for their campaigns. 'Judges are not politicians,' Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., wrote in the majority opinion in the 5-4 decision [Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar], 'even when they come to the bench by way of the ballot.' He went on, 'Simply put, Florida and most other States have concluded that the public may lack confidence in a judge’s ability to administer justice without fear or favor if he comes to office by asking for favors.'

There is no need for 'may' in that sentence. In many of the thirty-nine states that elect judges, a dramatic rise in campaign contributions and related spending has caused a well-documented erosion of public confidence in state courts.
In Wisconsin, with Scott Walker's radical disregard for ethics, the rule of law and the public interest presents the worst case in the nation.

Roggensack, part of the Republican Party bloc on the Court, was reelected in 2013 and her campaign was outspent by the corporate special interests—Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC)—supporting her reelection, as was the case in the other three GOP justices' campaigns (Fischer, PRWatch).

All of the four GOP justices joined in voting down internal Court conflict-of-interest rules that would have mandated recusals when massive campaign contributions clearly cast doubt on the ability of justices to render judgments on the parties that funded their campaigns.

"In Wisconsin, the decision to recuse rests solely with the justices themselves, and in 2010 the Court adopted rules drafted by the WMC, declaring that the fact of a campaign contribution alone won't require recusal" (Fischer, PRWatch).

The law of the land in Wisconsin for the judiciary is: Fund my election, and I'll vote your way if you come before my court.

Now, the future of Scott Walker as the center of a John Doe probe, remains in the hands of the four GOP justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court who have made their sentiments known on the judiciary and corrupt influences.

"In the coming weeks, ... outside campaign spending may be at issue again as the State Supreme Court considers whether an investigation can proceed into claims that Mr. Walker’s campaign improperly coordinated the spending by conservative groups during campaigns in 2011 and 2012 to recall him and state lawmakers after the collective bargaining cuts," notes Monica Davey in The New York Times.

With Justices David Prosser, Patience Roggensack, Annette Ziegler and Michael Gableman on the seven-member Court, one doubts Scott Walker is sweating the outcome.

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