Two Supreme Court Experts Warn About Impact of Partisan Nomination Fights

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Two experts on the United States Supreme Court expressed concerns Thursday during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School that the level of partisanship in confirmation processes for justices is causing damage to the court itself.

David A. Strauss, the Gerald Ratner Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, said, “Things have become a lot more partisan in a way that I think is really damaging for the court as an institution.”

Strauss said, that, even though partisanship has long been a part of confirming court nominees, among senators overall, “there was a consensus that we really have to kind of make sure that we take care of the court.” That meant approving well-qualified candidates who would be respected and do their jobs well, with less attention paid to their partisanship. That has eroded, he said.

“I think it has taken a turn for the much more partisan,” Strauss said. ”What’s really troubling about it . . . Once that happens, it is very hard to dig yourself out of it.” Continue reading “Two Supreme Court Experts Warn About Impact of Partisan Nomination Fights”

Tommy Thompson Describes Lessons from His “Journey of a Lifetime”

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There are few people in recent Wisconsin history – maybe all Wisconsin history – who could work a crowd better than Tommy Thompson, and he showed he still has that ability in an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall on Wednesday that was interesting, insightful, provocative and entertaining.

Elected four times, he was governor of Wisconsin from 1987 to 2001, followed by four years as health and human services secretary in the administration of President George W Bush, Thompson, now 76, spoke on the day after his autobiography, Tommy: My Journey of a Lifetime, written along with journalist Doug Moe, was released officially. Continue reading “Tommy Thompson Describes Lessons from His “Journey of a Lifetime””

Partisan Divides Are Vivid in New Law School Poll Results

Posted on Categories Marquette Law School Poll, Political Processes & Rhetoric, PublicLeave a comment» on Partisan Divides Are Vivid in New Law School Poll Results

“If there’s a subtitle to today’s presentation, it is partisan differences.”

That comment from Professor Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, as a new round of poll results was released Wednesday at Eckstein Hall, spotlighted a striking and important aspect to public opinion in Wisconsin (and probably across the United States). In short, there are two different worlds of perception on what is going on when it comes to politics and policy.

Start with the most obvious example, opinions of President Donald Trump. Overall, 42 percent of registered voters polled in Wisconsin approved of Trump’s job performance and 50 percent disapproved. In polling a month ago, it was 44 percent and 50 percent. Since Trump took office, those numbers have not varied much.

But break it down by partisanship and there’s a canyon of difference. Among Republicans, 86 percent approve of how Trump is doing as president and 8 percent disapprove. Among Democrats, 3 percent approve and 93 percent disapprove. Continue reading “Partisan Divides Are Vivid in New Law School Poll Results”

Facts and History — But No Predictions — as Program Sets the Political Scene

Posted on Categories Lubar Center, Marquette Law School Poll, Political Processes & Rhetoric, PublicLeave a comment» on Facts and History — But No Predictions — as Program Sets the Political Scene

Set aside (for the moment) the poll numbers, the partisanship, and the passion and analyze the facts and data.

That was the goal of an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program on Thursday, June 14, at Marquette Law School that was a bit unusual. How so? The guests were Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, and John Johnson, research fellow for the Law Schools Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education, but, unlike the large majority of such sessions, particularly involving Franklin, they didn’t have any fresh poll results.

Instead, the goal, as Franklin put it, was to look at the lay of the political landscape, both in Wisconsin and beyond. Results from four special elections so far in 2018 for legislative seats in Wisconsin and from the statewide election of a Supreme Court justice offered the opening insights on current Wisconsin voting patterns. But the discussion expanded to encompass results from more than 300 elections nationwide since the 2016 presidential election and to look at history going back as far as the 1860s.

Franklin and Johnson showed the degree to which Democrats generally had gained ground since 2016 in election results in Wisconsin and nationwide. But Franklin looked at historical trends that show how the party of a sitting president usually loses ground in mid-term elections. What is shaping up for this fall’s elections may (or may not) be more in line with historical patterns than many people think.

One interesting insight: On average, Franklin said, the opposition party has gained 24 seats in the US House of Representatives in mid-term elections. And for the Democrats to gain control of the House this year, they need to gain 24 seats. That means it’s anyone’s guess which party will have the majority in the House after November. Or, as Franklin put it, “uncertainty is the order of the day.”

Franklin looked at the history of the impact on mid-term election of factors such as a president’s popularity, change in the national gross domestic product, unemployment rates, and the results of polling that asks people a generic question (with no candidate specified) about which party they hope will win the upcoming election. Based on history, some of those indicators suggest good prospects for Democrats – and some don’t.

The four special legislative elections in Wisconsin this year, as well as the Supreme Court election (assuming you assign partisan interpretation to it), each showed Republicans doing worse and Democrats doing better than they did in recent elections, Franklin and Johnson showed.

Some suggest that the low turnout in those races reduces the weight that should be put on such trends. Johnson analyzed results of special elections compared to general elections broadly and found that the differences in outcomes between the low turnout and high turnout elections were not as great as many people assumed.

But Franklin said a shift toward Democrats in the legislative elections in Wisconsin this fall wouldn’t necessarily mean changes in which party controls each legislative house in Madison. For example, few legislative elections in recent years have been settled by five percentage points or less, he said, so a five point shift toward Democrats might not change the winning party in many cases.

The first round of results for the Marquette Law School Poll since March is set to be released on Wednesday (June 20). It will include results for the Democratic primary for governor and the Republican primary for a US Senate seat. The pace of campaigning (and polling) will accelerate through the coming months.

But at this point, Franklin said, it was good to pause and look at the bigger and historical perspective.

“The main thing I want to leave you with is uncertainty (about what lies ahead), but I want you to appreciate why we are uncertain and how these different indicators are pushing in different directions,” Franklin said.

To view video of the one-hour conversation, click here. To get information on the poll release program at Eckstein Hall on June 20, click here.

 

 

Deconstructing Our Segregated Reality

Posted on Categories Alumni Contributor, Civil Rights, Legal Profession, Marquette Law School, Milwaukee, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & Law1 Comment on Deconstructing Our Segregated Reality
A map of the city of Milwaukee and surrounding counties illustrating the racial segregation of residents per the 200 census.
Black residential segregation as reflected in 2000 Milwaukee Census

In his commentary on May 24, 2018, Bucks guard Sterling Brown is lucky he wasn’t killed by Milwaukee Police,” Martenzie Johnson casually observes that “Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in America, is one of the worst cities for black Americans, economically, the worst city for African-American children to grow up in and is home to the zip code with the highest incarceration rate in the country.”

I moved to Milwaukee in 1984 to become a Marquette Lawyer.  I took my first law school exam on my 30th birthday – Torts by Professor James Ghiardi.  In May of 1987, like every Marquette lawyer graduating before me and after me, I took the attorney’s oath.  I swore to “support the Constitution of the United States,” the one ordained and established in order to “form a more perfect Union.”  I never left Milwaukee and I am proud to say I am from Milwaukee.  Yet I am at a complete loss of words to describe how it is that we, my law school and my fellow Marquette lawyers, go about our busy daily lives virtually unconscious of living in “one of the most segregated cities in America.”  If you believe you can frame the types of questions that, if answered properly and acted on, will help us deconstruct our segregated Milwaukee, then I strongly encourage you to write and to weigh in now.

In October 2015, I was involved in a three week medical malpractice trial in Outagamie County.  Judge Mark McGinnis was presiding, who is one of the best trial judges currently on the bench.  I came home Friday to rest and prepare for the final week of trial.  A little after 1 am on October 31, 2015 the incessant ring of the telephone pulled me from a deep slumber.  The voice of a woman said, “Mr. Thomsen, we tried for 45 minutes, but we couldn’t save your son.”  My wife, Grace, sitting up asks:  “What did they say?”  “He’s gone.”  “Noooooo…” turned into a mourning howl.  It is unforgettable.  And so it is that in one instant the eye of a category 5 hurricane shreds your bed, your son’s mother, your wife, his sister, his fiancé, his daughter, his uncles, aunts, cousins, grandmothers, friends — my life and theirs too.  Judge McGinnis and defense counsel all agreed to a mistrial if I asked for one.  I returned to finish the trial.  The case had progressed and in a way that could not have been replicated.  The lawyer’s oath is a demanding one.

Yet somehow in the eye of the hurricane you can find love: the love of my son’s fiancé, of my now daughter-in-law Sydney, and my granddaughter, Sienna.  They are proudly biracial.  Sydney is considering law school.  I suggested that she become a Marquette Lawyer.  She said “no” because Milwaukee and Milwaukee County are too segregated.  The truth hurts so much. Continue reading “Deconstructing Our Segregated Reality”

Spring in Wisconsin: Slight Chance of Showers with a Great Chance of Heavy Advertising

Posted on Categories Civil Rights, Judges & Judicial Process, Political Processes & Rhetoric, PublicLeave a comment» on Spring in Wisconsin: Slight Chance of Showers with a Great Chance of Heavy Advertising

This semester in Professor Lisa Mazzie’s Advanced Legal Writing: Writing for Law Practice seminar, students are required to write one blog post on a law- or law school-related topic of their choice. Writing blog posts as a lawyer is a great way to practice writing skills, and to do so in a way that allows the writer a little more freedom to showcase his or her own voice, and—eventually for these students—a great way to maintain visibility as a legal professional. Here is one of those blog posts, this one written by 2L Randy Jones.

In Wisconsin, the weather may serve as an indicator of spring. I say “may” because the weather often teases us. Most people would say indicators of spring are pollen or budding of trees, bushes, and flowers. For some, it’s the lake trout (Steelhead) swimming up the rivers to spawn. But a sure indicator is political advertising, even for positions that should not be political. I began to wonder why I am seeing so many advertisements. It seemed to me that everywhere I looked, even scrolling down Facebook, I was being shown an advertisement (subconsciously) telling me to vote for Judge Rebecca Dallet for Supreme Court.

Every spring, Wisconsin has an election. Sometimes the election is for judges, for school board representative, and sometimes for state superintendent. Wisconsin has a problem: voter turnout in Wisconsin primaries has been historically low, even sometimes for a presidential race. Continue reading “Spring in Wisconsin: Slight Chance of Showers with a Great Chance of Heavy Advertising”

Don’t Laugh — Millennial Leader Serious About Easing Political Polarization

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You didn’t need to go further than the opening moments of the “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program in the Lubar Center at Eckstein Hall on Tuesday to grasp the challenge his guest for the day has taken on.

Gousha was introducing Steven Olikara, founder and president of the Millennial Action Project. “They’re hoping, sort of, to re-establish political cooperation,” Gousha said. That brought an audible snicker from a member of the audience, which brought a larger laugh from the group. “This is a cynical, cynical group,” Gousha said, with a laugh. Olikara responded, “That’s OK, my parents laughed, too.”

But Olikara is serious about it and he exuded confidence that improvement in the tone of American politics will come.  Continue reading “Don’t Laugh — Millennial Leader Serious About Easing Political Polarization”

Voter Identification Laws Set Off Alarm Bells for “On the Issues” Speakers

Posted on Categories Lubar Center, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Speakers at MarquetteLeave a comment» on Voter Identification Laws Set Off Alarm Bells for “On the Issues” Speakers

A cycle in which expansion of the right to vote is followed by efforts to suppress voting can be traced back to the 18th and 19th centuries, according to Professor Atiba Ellis. And the cycle continues now in ways that are keeping many people from voting and making voting much harder for others. 

“We seem to be repeating the same pattern over and over again,” Ellis said at an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program Thursday in the Lubar Center of Marquette Law School. Ellis, the Boden Visiting Professor at Marquette Law School this fall, is a professor at the West Virginia University College of Law who has made study of voting rights a focus of his scholarship. 

Joining Ellis in the program was Molly McGrath of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project, who called the current surge of laws requiring such things as presentation of photo identification in order to vote “incredibly alarming.”   Continue reading “Voter Identification Laws Set Off Alarm Bells for “On the Issues” Speakers”

Political Flux in Southwestern Wisconsin Offers Surprises, Journalist Finds

Posted on Categories Lubar Center, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Speakers at MarquetteLeave a comment» on Political Flux in Southwestern Wisconsin Offers Surprises, Journalist Finds

Don’t make assumptions. Every journalist knows that assumptions can lead you astray.

So if you’re talking with five guys in Richland County in southwestern Wisconsin about their guns and chain saws, you might guess they voted for Donald Trump for president a year ago. Wrong for all five of them, Craig Gilbert, the Washington bureau chief of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, found during a recent reporting trip.

Gilbert found that a lot of assumptions some might make about the political views and voting patterns of people in the largely rural, largely white, and not wealthy part of Wisconsin were wrong. Many communities in southwestern Wisconsin voted for Barack Obama for president in 2008 and 2012 and then voted for Trump in 2016. The views of people Gilbert interviewed in recent weeks remain in flux about Trump, amid a lot of continuing dissatisfaction with the way the political system operates (or doesn’t operate) in Washington. Continue reading “Political Flux in Southwestern Wisconsin Offers Surprises, Journalist Finds”

Charlie Sykes: “One of Those Moments Where You Have to Stand Up”

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Charlie Sykes a turncoat and opportunist?

At an ”On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Tuesday, Sykes said he’s not surprised some people say that. The long time conservative radio talk show host from Milwaukee is a prominent critic of President Trump, a Republican backed (at least in some fashions) by most conservatives. And Sykes is appearing frequently these days on MSNBC, which has a reputation as a liberal-oriented network, on NPR (likewise), and in the pages of the New York Times (likewise).

Sykes sees it differently, to say the least. “I was a Never Trump guy from the moment he came down that golden escalator” in Trump Tower in 2015 to announce his candidacy. “I’ve been saying (in recent times) the same thing I’ve been saying for two years. . . .

“The notion that it’s somehow opportunistic – show me what I’ve changed my position on. I just happen to say it on a larger, different platform.” Continue reading “Charlie Sykes: “One of Those Moments Where You Have to Stand Up””

Jiang Tianyong, Subversion, and the Seductive Rule of Law

Posted on Categories Human Rights, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, UncategorizedLeave a comment» on Jiang Tianyong, Subversion, and the Seductive Rule of Law

Chinese lawyer Jiang Tianyong sits in front of a microphone during his trial.As the Chinese lawyer Jiang Tianyong painfully realized, a belief in the rule of law is commendable in one context but deplorable in another.  While a belief in the rule of law has traditionally been honored in the dominant American ideology, the same belief is suspect given the dominant Chinese ideology.

Jiang had been a prominent human rights lawyer in Beijing and represented a large number of Chinese dissidents, often with surprising success.  His most famous client was perhaps Chen Guangcheng, an activist who fled house arrest and received asylum in the American Embassy.  Most recently, Jiang represented a group of other human rights lawyers, who were being prosecuted for criticizing the government.

In late August, 2017, Jiang himself was convicted of inciting subversion and attempting to undermine the Chinese Communist Party.  His trial as broadcast live on Weibo, a popular Chinese social media network, and highlights of the trial appeared daily on Chinese network television.

Jiang’s conviction was hardly surprising since, late in the trial, Jiang confessed.  In his confession, Jiang apologized for the harm he had done and, indeed, admitted he was part of a conspiracy to topple the Chinese Communist Party.  His confession ended with an emotional plea for mercy and for “a chance to become a new person.”

What’s surprising, at least for an American, is that Jiang said he had stumbled into subversion because of a misguided belief in the rule of law.  Jiang pointed at “the bourgeois Western constitutional system” and claimed that it had a “subliminal influence on him.”  Because of his belief in the rule of law, Jiang said, he rejected China’s political system and worked to replace it with the type of system that reigns in the United States. Continue reading “Jiang Tianyong, Subversion, and the Seductive Rule of Law”

On Overstating the Case for Confederate Monuments

Posted on Categories Civil Rights, First Amendment, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & Law, UncategorizedLeave a comment» on On Overstating the Case for Confederate Monuments
Statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee sitting astride a horse.
The Robert Edward Lee statue in Emancipation Park

It is that values question we should really be asking. As far as I can tell, those who object to the removal of the statutes seem to be saying that those Confederate generals who defended slavery, secession, and white supremacy represent the values of a twenty-first century America that is becoming more egalitarian and diverse.

It is overstatement to say that by removing monuments to Confederate generals one is erasing all history. Commentators have wondered aloud whether this will become a long-term movement towards total eradication of history of the South. The president even suggested this by asking when this will stop. He called the removal of Confederate monuments the destruction of culture. These claims incorrectly conflate crafting historical memory with the fact that honorific statuary in public places signals the values of the modern-day community.Memory of the Civil War and its aftermath will not suddenly be completely erased forever because statues are torn down, street names changed, buildings renamed, and the like. Culture will not be destroyed. (And as an aside, one should ask, “Who’s culture is being protected by protecting these monuments?”) The consequences of the Civil War, for good and ill, linger. Moreover, history’s memory is a lot longer than the beginning and ending of a statue, and history will continue to be useful as long as scholars, schools, and society have open and honest conversations about the past.

History is dynamic. Honorary statues are not. Communities change and values evolve and those who are honored yesterday may be disfavored tomorrow. Think about it this way–when the American Revolution concluded, as my friend and Marquette colleague Edward Fallone points out, no one objected that the history of British rule over the colonies would be erased forever when the statues of George III were torn down. Two hundred forty one years later, we literally still sing songs to sold-out audiences about the American Revolution. And Hamilton the Musical! still gets the facts right.

The communal choice of determining who is and who is not to be honored in the present day is a completely different conversation than one about the state of history. We shouldn’t confuse the two. Continue reading “On Overstating the Case for Confederate Monuments”