The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Caperton Moment

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.

The exact same four justices who voted (by e-mail and without a conference of all seven justices) to halt multiple John Doe probes into alleged illegal campaign activities and neuter our state’s election laws through an act of judicial activism that would make William Brennan blush, were elected to their positions largely on the backs of very same campaign financiers who purchased Governor Scott Walker’s election in 2010 and again in 2012. If Henry Campbell Black was alive today, he would revise his iconic legal dictionary’s definition of “Conflict of Interest” by simply citing to 2015 WI 85. I will have much more to say about this decision over the next few days, but I wanted to take a few moments this afternoon to direct my shame at four members of our State Supreme Court who would elevate the qualified rights of a few wealthy Wisconsin citizens over the public’s right to make informed decisions regarding those they elect to public office. Wisconsinite and progressive Republican Robert M. LaFollette Sr. is turning in his grave.

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