More Doubts About the Court’s Resolution of the John Doe Investigation

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Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Election Law, Public, U.S. Supreme Court, Wisconsin Supreme Court
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Today, the United States Supreme Court summarily affirmed the decision of a Three Judge Panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in  Independence Institute v. Federal Election Commission.  By affirming the panel in this case, the U.S. Supreme Court seriously undermined the legal rationale that the Wisconsin Supreme Court relied upon when it dismissed the John Doe investigation into possible illegal campaign coordination during the Governor Walker Recall Election.  In one sense, today’s action by the U.S. Supreme Court merely establishes the narrow rule that “electioneering activity,” which encompasses a variety of activity beyond express advocacy on behalf of a candidate for office, is subject to regulation without violating the U.S. Constitution.

However, the action of the U.S. Supreme Court is significant because it also necessarily rejects a converse proposition: that the scope of permissible government regulation of election activity is limited to conduct which constitutes “express advocacy.”  The Independence Institute case is relevant to the John Doe Investigation because both cases raise the legal question of whether the U.S. Constitution permits any regulation of election activity other than “express advocacy” or its functional equivalent.  “Express advocacy” is usually defined as a communication that expressly advocates for the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate.

The Independence Institute is a nonprofit organization.  It challenged disclosure requirements contained in the McCain-Feingold Act which would have required it to disclose its donors if it spent more than $10,000 on “electioneering communications” in the 60 days before a general election (or the 30 days before a primary election).  The group argued that this statutory requirement was unconstitutional because it went beyond the regulation of express advocacy.  As described by Judge Wilkins in an earlier proceeding in the D.C. Circuit, the argument of the Independence Institute reduced to the argument that “the only speech that should be considered an electioneering communication, and therefore trigger the BCRA’s reporting and disclosure requirements, is speech that is ‘unambiguously related’ to a campaign.”  The group wanted the Court to rule that the disclosure requirement in the statute could only be enforced in instances involving express advocacy.

If this sounds familiar, it is because the legal argument advanced by the Independence Institute is parallel to the reasoning adopted by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in its opinion ending the John Doe Investigation (State ex rel. Two Unnamed Petitioners v. Peterson, 2015 WI 85).  Read more »

Women in Wisconsin Law: Lavinia Goodell

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Category: Feminism, Legal History, Legal Profession, Public, Wisconsin Supreme Court
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This is the first part of a three-part series on Women in Wisconsin Law. 

Throughout Wisconsin’s history, women have played an instrumental role in the development of the state’s legal system. Among these women was Lavinia Goodell of Janesville, the first woman admitted to practice law in Wisconsin.

Before her move to Wisconsin, Goodell worked as an editor for several newspapers in New York. During this time, Goodell confided in a coworker that her life’s ambition was to become a lawyer. When Goodell’s parents retired to Janesville, Wisconsin, in 1871, she was convinced into joining them with her father’s promise that she would be able to study law. Upon arriving in Wisconsin, Goodell’s father helped his daughter find attorneys who would permit her to study law alongside them through an apprenticeship. After demonstrating her ability to successfully practice law as an apprentice, Goodell sought admission before the local circuit court and, with the support of several prominent local lawyers, was admitted to practice in the Circuit Court of Rock County, Wisconsin, in 1874.

After being admitted to practice law at this local level, Goodell opened her own law office that primarily represented woman and the elderly. Despite being able to practice at this local level without much difficulty, one of Goodell’s cases in 1875 was appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. When the supreme court did not allow her to argue the case, Goodell filed an application for state admission.   Read more »

How to Interpret Away the Home Rule Provision (in 4 Easy Steps)

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Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Milwaukee, Public, Wisconsin Supreme Court

homeruleToday the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued its opinion in the case of Black v. City of Milwaukee, 2016 WI 47, holding that a state law (Wis. Stat. 66.0502) that prohibits cities and other municipalities from imposing residency requirements on municipal employees does not contravene the Home Rule provision of the Wisconsin Constitution (Art. XI, sec. 3(1)).  The result of the ruling is that the City of Milwaukee may no longer require city employees to reside within the City limits, with the resultant loss of significant tax revenue for Milwaukee.

Reading the text of the Home Rule provision, one might reasonably question how the Wisconsin Supreme Court arrived at this conclusion.  The relevant text of Art. XI states:

Cities and villages organized pursuant to state law may determine their local affairs and government, subject only to this constitution and to such enactments of the legislature of statewide concern as with uniformity shall affect every city or every village.

However, the Justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court have very helpfully demonstrated how the clear language of the Wisconsin Constitution can be interpreted away in four easy steps. Read more »

Differences Between Supreme Court Candidates Clear in Eckstein Hall Debate

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Category: Public, Speakers at Marquette, Wisconsin Supreme Court
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Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were among the US Supreme Court justices who were invoked Tuesday night as role models by the candidates in the race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court that will be on the ballot April 5.

But did either of them ever have to go through the kind of election campaigning that Justice Rebecca Bradley and Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg are immersed in now?

A one-hour debate between Kloppenburg and Bradley  at Eckstein Hall was moderated by Mike Gousha, Marquette Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy and a political analyst for WISN television. The debate was shown live on WISN and other stations around the state, with some stations scheduling it for broadcast later. Read more »

New Marquette Lawyer Spotlights the Role of Law Clerks — and Much More

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Category: Federal Law & Legal System, Marquette Law School, Public, U.S. Supreme Court, Wisconsin Supreme Court
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Marquette LawyerJudicial assistants or junior judges? That was the key question at a recent gathering at Marquette Law School of experts on the role of law clerks who work for judges in many courts, including U.S. Supreme Court justices. The Fall 2015 Marquette Lawyer magazine highlights excerpts from the presentations at that conference in a cover story that sheds light on the important but rarely spotlighted role of clerks (the full symposium is available in the Law Review).

Shedding light is also a prime goal of several other pieces in the new magazine.

Charles Franklin, professor of law and public policy and director of the Marquette Law School Poll, examines the muted level of support that Gov. Scott Walker received from Wisconsin voters during his unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Weak support from independent voters receives particular attention from Franklin in his piece, “Downtown on the Home Front.”

Joseph A. Ranney, Marquette Law School’s Adrian P. Schoone Visiting Fellow, is working on a book about the role that states have played in the evolution of American law. In several pieces posted on the Marquette Law School Faculty Blog and printed in the new magazine, Ranney sheds light on the Badger state’s legal past, describing “Wisconsin’s Legal Giants.” Read more »

In Memory of Justice Patrick Crooks

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Category: Judges & Judicial Process, Public, Wisconsin Court System, Wisconsin Law & Legal System, Wisconsin Supreme Court
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Justice CrooksJustice N. Patrick Crooks was the epitome of a lawyer and judge who lived to serve. In his fifty-two-year legal career, he served as a captain in the office of the Judge Advocate General at the Pentagon and then as a lawyer in private practice in Green Bay, before becoming a Brown County circuit court judge and then justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In 1994 he was named Wisconsin Trial Judge of the Year by the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Justice Crooks served on the trial bench for nineteen years and on the Wisconsin Supreme Court from 1996 to his passing, in chambers, last week on September 21.

I was honored to work for Justice Crooks as his clerk during the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s 1999-2000 term.

Justice Crooks approached each case with fresh eyes and an impartial mind. He reasoned through cases carefully and understood that he had a solemn role in deciding a case. Justice Crooks believed in the law and the justice system. Every case was fully analyzed and researched before oral argument. Opinions were to be written to guide lawyers, judges, and Wisconsin citizens. Justice Crooks was proud of his work on the trial bench and felt that his knowledge of the trial courtroom was important to his understanding of cases on appeal.

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Wisconsin’s Narrow Interpretation of Padilla v. Kentucky

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Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Immigration Law, Prisoner Rights, Public, Wisconsin Supreme Court
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4c556cb87b0a9_imageWhile in my final semester of law school, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Padilla v. Kentcuky, holding that the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee to the effective assistance of counsel includes affirmative advice about the immigration consequences that flow from a criminal conviction.  559 U.S. 356 (2010). I have never practiced criminal defense in a pre-Padilla world. I have always considered it my duty, through research, and often times consultation with an immigration attorney, to determine what the client is facing if he or she accepts a plea. Likewise, I have always considered it my duty, if it is important to the client, to try and mitigate the immigration consequences when negotiating a plea. While it is impossible to mitigate all immigration consequences, it is possible to provide clients with an analysis about the consequences, or potential consequences, of a plea. The most important thing, in my opinion, is that a client understands the immigration consequences associated with a conviction, and thus, is given an opportunity to make an informed decision.

Prior to Padilla, immigration consequences were considered a collateral consequence of a criminal conviction, which meant that a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel was limited to instances of affirmative misadvice, rather than failure to render any advice at all. Padilla changed the landscape of the Sixth Amendment, and the decision reflects the Court’s recognition that deportation has long been recognized particularly harsh penalty associated with a criminal conviction, and that changes to the immigration law have made deportation “virtually inevitable” for most non-citizens with a criminal conviction. Id. at 360.

The Padilla Court, however, seemed to split the deficient performance prong of a Strickland analysis by linking the specificity of the advice required with the clarity of the immigration consequence. Accordingly, when the immigration consequences of conviction are “clear,” or “succinct and straightforward,” counsel’s obligation to give specific advice regarding those consequences is “equally clear.” Padilla, 559 U.S. at 369. In an unclear situation, a defense attorney still must advise his client, but the advice may be reduced to a more general warning. Id. Thus, leaving open for interpretation what constitutes a “clear” consequence, and what defense counsel’s duties are to find out the consequence. Read more »

Legal Community Mourns Justice Patrick Crooks

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crooks-1170x781The Wisconsin legal community is mourning the sudden death of Justice N. Patrick Crooks.   A native of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Justice Crooks was elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1996 and won a second term in 2006.  He recently announced that he would not stand for re-election in 2016.

Before joining the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Justice Crooks served as a Judge on the Brown County Circuit Court.  He was named Trial Judge of the Year in 1994 by the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates. He was widely respected as an independent and conscientious jurist.  He will be missed.

Photo Credit: Jake Harper/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Caperton Moment

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Category: Election Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System, Wisconsin Supreme Court
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wisconsin-supreme-courtThe definitive litmus test for the impartiality and competence of the Wisconsin Supreme Court took the form of a lengthy opinion issued in response to the consolidated action State of Wisconsin ex rel. Two Unnamed Petitioners v. Peterson (2015 WI 85) by our state’s highest court on July 16, 2015. They failed this test miserably. In that one day, the court managed to squander the entirety of its judicial capital and to risk making itself into a tribunal that is an insult to the distinguished jurists who have come before them. This is about much more than the unjustified halting of a bipartisan probe into potentially severe violations of Wisconsin’s election laws — it is a prime illustration of the corrosive and corruptive influence that money has on politics and, in particular, judicial politics. These decisions are more misguided and indeed may possibly be more corrupt than the decisions reached by the West Virginia Supreme Court that led to the now-famous United States Supreme Court decision Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. (556 U.S. 868) and inspired John Grisham’s best-selling novel The Appeal. Read more »

The Chief’s Lawsuit

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Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, Wisconsin Supreme Court

220px-Shirley_AbrahamsonA lawsuit filed in federal court by a sitting Chief Justice of a state Supreme Court against her colleagues is certainly unusual, if not unprecedented.  The reaction to the filing of the complaint in Abrahamson v. Neitzel  by the mainstream media has ranged from viewing the lawsuit as comedy (The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Will the Real Chief Justice Please Stand”) to viewing this latest development as part of an ongoing tragedy (The New Yorker: “The Destruction of the Wisconsin Supreme Court”).  However, the legal question at the heart of the Chief’s lawsuit is actually quite interesting.

Does the new method for selecting a Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court take effect in the middle of the sitting Chief Justice’s term, or does it take effect upon the conclusion of the term of the current Chief?

Complicating the issue is the fact that an $8,000 salary differential exists between the position of Chief Justice and the other six Justices on the Court.  Removing Justice Abrahamson from her current position as Chief would result in the immediate loss of this portion of her salary.  Moreover, a mid-term reduction in salary appears to be prohibited by Article IV of the Wisconsin Constitution. Read more »

A Rebellion of Giants: Dixon, Ryan, and Taming the Railroads in the Gilded Age

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Category: Legal History, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System, Wisconsin Supreme Court
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Chief Justice Luther S. Dixon

Chief Justice
Luther S. Dixon

This is the fifth in a series of Schoone Fellowship Field Notes.

Eastern jurists such as John Marshall, James Kent, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Benjamin Cardozo have received the lion’s share of attention from law professors and historians over the years. Two fellow giants from the Midwest, Michigan’s Thomas Cooley and Iowa’s John Dillon, have been relegated to comparative obscurity.

Cooley and Dillon played a central role in shaping the contours of modern American constitutional law. They forged their philosophies in the heat of two critical judicial debates over the role of railroads in American society. Two Wisconsin justices, Luther Dixon and Edward Ryan, were also leaders in those debates, and their contributions to American constitutional law deserve to be better known. Read more »

Has Wisconsin Produced Any Great Judges?

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Category: Judges & Judicial Process, Legal History, Public, Wisconsin Supreme Court
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Chief Justice
John B. Winslow

As announced this past summer, Joseph A. Ranney is serving as Marquette Law School’s Schoone Visiting Fellow in Wisconsin Law and using the occasion to write a book examining the role states have played in the evolution of American law, with a focus on the contributions made by Wisconsin. In a series of blog posts this semester, Professor Ranney will offer some Schoone Fellowship Field Notes. This is the first.

What makes a great judge? Who are the great state judges? Thousands of judges have helped build the edifice that is American state law. Only a few have received great acclaim. What are the elements of judicial greatness, and has Wisconsin produced any great judges? Let me consider the matter, excluding any current or recent judges. Read more »