The Wisconsin Supreme Court Crisis – Far More Serious Than Ruling On Walker’s Anti-Collective Bargaining Law
Yesterday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling, overturned the lower court decision that had barred implementation of Scott Walker’s anti-collective bargaining law on procedural grounds.
While Walker’s law will now take effect, this is the least of the problems revealed by the high court’s ruling.
After all, the anti-collective bargaining legislation was going to become law, one way or another. Had the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court ban and struck down the law, Walker would have simply included the legislation in his new budget and pushed it through once again. Only this time, there would not have been the procedural snafu that has left the legislation hanging in limbo as it worked its way through the state court system.
However, the decision of the Wisconsin Supreme Court revealed something far more shocking than the ruling which went against the supporters of collective bargaining. It revealed, by way of written opinion, a now ‘out in the open’ battle between the members of the court wherein the minority opinion bluntly and directly accused the majority of fudging the facts to reach the decision they had already determined they wanted to reach. The minority opinion further alleged that the majority was driven by political motives rather than the desire to deliver a fair and judicious opinion.
In the world of the law, this is beyond huge. This is gargantuan.
Of course, it is no secret that high courts will, from time to time, give us reason to believe that politics might be at work. However, members of such a court use extraordinary care and caution to avoid calling out a fellow justice for doing what is considered the unthinkable.
The notion that a minority opinion would level a charge of judicial cheating against brother and sister members of the court, in an opinion that will now become part of the Wisconsin judicial body of legal authority, is positively remarkable. I’ve read more cases in my life than I could possibly count and never-and I mean never- has anything I’ve seen so much as approached what I read in this case.
And the fact that these charges were leveled in an opinion concurring with the minority written by the Chief Justice of the Court just makes this all the more astounding.
In a fiery dissent, Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote that justices hastily reached the decision and the majority “set forth their own version of facts without evidence. They should not engage in this disinformation.”
Abrahamson also said a concurring opinion written by Justice David Prosser, a former Republican speaker of the Assembly, was “long on rhetoric and long on story-telling that appears to have a partisan slant.”Via Huffington Post
Astounding. Truly ‘jaw dropping’, mouth gaping, astounding.
When the Chief Justice of the highest court in the state feels moved to accuse those in the majority of recreating the facts to meet a desired decision, this is a court that is inextraordinary crisis.
And if Chief Justice Abrahamson is correct in her assessment, Wisconsin now finds itself in a period where their highest court decisions can no longer be relied upon when assessing the law.
Every state in the nation – with the exception of Louisiana who retains its roots in the French Napoleonic system- bases its law in the concept of stare decisis. This means that when the court makes law through their decisions, other courts will strive to remain consistent with that law by following the judicial precedents set so that people will never find themselves confused as to the likely outcome of their actions.
This is why changes in American law – other than those brought about by legislation- happen very, very slowly. Consistency in the law is one of the fundamental goals of our system.
However, when the Chief Justice of the State’s highest court accuses the majority of highly unethical behavior and political motives when making law, and does so in the writings found in a decision of the court, there is no court in the state – nor citizen seeking to follow the laws of the state – who can give credence and credibility to the high court’s rulings. Every ruling of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, so long as it is composed of its current Justices, will result in precedents that are instantly suspect due to the charges that have been levied by members of the court.
While the State of Wisconsin has a lot on its plate in the recall department, I’m afraid they now have little choice but to consider taking a look at some of their Supreme Court Justices for similar action.
Not because the court handed down a ruling that will make people unhappy – but because the people of Wisconsin now have every reason to believe that their Supreme Court has been corrupted and their opinions subject to invalidation.
Make no mistake. This is not about a judicial philosophy with which I might disagree. Reasonable, learned judges can – and often do – apply the law to a fact situation and come up with different opinions and they do so in the utmost of good faith and their best understanding of the law.
However, the minority opinion issued yesterday in the Wisconsin Supreme Court did not charge mistaken application of law. The opinion charged perversion of the facts and the law to meet a desired result.
If this is true, this is court corruption at its absolute worst and the people of Wisconsin cannot permit this to stand.
By: Rick Ungar, The Policy Page, Forbes, June 15, 2011
Crowds of protesters who flocked to the Wisconsin state Capitol June 14 anticipating Assembly action on the divisive collective bargaining bill, which essentially eliminates collective bargaining for public workers, were shocked to learn the Supreme Court had reinstated the law in a hotly contested 4-3 decision.
Speakers at a planned 5:00 p.m. rally were quick to lift the faltering spirits of the Wisconsin Democracy Movement. Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, told the crowd of thousands, “We’re going to be here every day. We didn’t pick this fight, but if it’s a fight they want, it’s a fight they’re going to get.”
Mary Bell, a middle school English teacher from Wisconsin Rapids serving as president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, urged protestors to hold Republican legislators accountable for their actions by voting in various recall elections across the state.
“This extreme agenda has to be seen for what it is and what it does to our Wisconsin values. Change begins when we stand up and speak out for what we believe in,” Bell said.
Republicans Signal Approaching Court Ruling, File Fake Candidates
The 4-3 ruling reflected the sharp conservative-liberal divide that many believed would determine the outcome of the Court’s decision. In her dissent, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson attacked the implicit “partisan slant” in Justice Prosser’s concurrence and the shaky rhetorical foundation of the majority opinion.
In hastily reaching judgment, Justice Patience D. Roggensack, Justice Annette K. Ziegler, and Justice Michael J. Gableman author an order, joined by Justice David T. Prosser, lacking a reasoned, transparent analysis and incorporating numerous errors of law and fact,” wrote Abrahamson. “This kind of order seems to open the court unnecessarily to the charge that the majority has reached a pre-determined conclusion not based on the facts and the law, which undermines the majority’s ultimate decision.”
The timing of the decision surprised those who had been keeping an eye on collective bargaining proceedings. Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald announced just yesterday that comittee hearings would be held Tuesday on the collective bargaining proposal, and that his Republican caucus was prepared to vote on it irregardless of a Supreme Court decision. The hearings were delayed several times throughout the day, raising a few eyebrows at the Capitol despite Fitzgerald’s categorical denial of any wrongdoing or insider information.
Some protesters did in fact speculate that not all is as it seems.
“The way they passed the budget bill initially was wrong, and the fact they did this behind closed doors is wrong,” said Sarah Fuelleman, a writer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Ophthalmology, adding, “I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I’m starting to become one.”
Lauren Schmidt, a 22-year-old home health care worker from Madison, didn’t mince words.
“I think its horseshit,” she said, before joining a contingent of protesters screaming and blowing vuvuzelas outside the window of Rep. Stephen Nass’s office, where the Republican lawmaker quietly ignored, and at times playfully provoked, impassioned Walkervillians.
Tuesday’s other big piece of news — that Republicans officially filed “fake Democrat” candidates in six Democratic primaries for the upcoming recall elections — didn’t come as much of a surprise. Republicans have openly admitted their intention of delaying the elections by fielding puppet candidates, but have been less forthcoming about the tactic’s collateral damage. According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation, the GOP plan would cost taxpayers upward of $428,000.
Budget Cuts Start to Hurt
Teachers, steel workers, firefighters, and other union workers began their Capitol Square march at 11:00 a.m., hoisting signs that read “Recall Walker” and “RIP Democracy.” Many expressed concern that various budget provisions would leave their families reeling financially.
Stacy Farasha Rhoads, adance instructor from Milwaukee who wore an all pink outfit to symbolize her opposition to proposed Planned Parenthood Cuts, worried that her two children, one of whom is autistic, would suffer from reduced funding for state-provided health services.
“I’m a single mother. I’ve got two children who are on Badgercare and I have a daughter with special needs. So all of the services that my family needs on a regular basis are under attack,” said Rhoads.
Rhoads marched in solidarity with other parents and families anticipating economic hardship, such as Chris Breihan, a part time teacher at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Proposed cuts to Family Care threaten to prevent her 21-year-old special needs son from attending an adult day services program recently recommended to him.
The mood was relaxed for most of the day, as Assembly Democrats and Republicans spent the majority of the afternoon behind closed doors at party caucus meetings. At a midday press conference, Representative Peter Barca and his Democratic caucus announced their intention to offer “a couple dozen” amendments to Governor Walker’s proposed budget, as part of their effort to push back against budget cuts targeting working class families.
At the end of the rally, firefighters led protesters in a “hands around the Capitol,” ceremony. The Beatles’ “Revolution,” written in response to the anti-war protests of the late 1960s, blared from event loudspeakers as pro-union activists took their places along the square. Hand in hand, the group sang a Sconnified version of “We Shall Overcome,” signaling their intent to keep fighting back against Governor Walker’s anti-middle class agenda.
Debora Marks, a 1st grade teacher at Lindbergh elementary, vowed to keep returning to Walkerville for “as long as it takes.” The frequent trips to the Capitol haven’t, however, distracted her from what she considers her top priority.
“My job is about something far more important than Scott Walker: its about educating future generations, and that’s something teachers can not stop doing, whether the Governor wants us to or not,” said Marks.
By: Eric Carlson, Center for Media and Democracy, June 15, 2011
For nearly four decades, Maine has been one of eight states which provides same-day voter registration to voters at the polls. This policy of enfranchising the greatest number of Maine voters is likely to end, however, now that the GOP-controlled state legislature has passed a bill ending same-day registration and Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage is expected to sign it. Worse, state GOP Chairman Charlie Webster explained it was necessary to disenfranchise the thousands of Maine voters who take advantage of same-day registration every election year in order to save Maine from one of his paranoid fantasies:
“If you want to get really honest, this is about how the Democrats have managed to steal elections from Maine people,” Webster told a columnist for the Portland Press Herald in a piece published Friday. “Many of us believe that the Democrats intentionally steal elections.”
Sadly, Maine’s voter disenfranchisement bill is only the latest example of the Republican war on voting that began almost immediately after the GOP took over several statehouses this year. Numerous GOP state legislatures have rammed through “voter ID” laws which disenfranchise thousands of elderly, disabled, and low-income voters. Republicans typically justify these voter disenfranchisement laws by claiming that they are necessary to combat voter fraud at the polls, but in-person voter fraud is only slightly more common than unicorns. A recent Supreme Court decision upholding a voter ID law was only able to cite one example of in-person voter fraud in the last 143 years.
Nor are voter ID laws the only front in the GOP’s war on voting. As Jonathan Chait explains, their efforts also include measures “restricting early voting, shortening poll hours, [and] clamping down on students voting at their campus.” And in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) even plans to gut his state’s public financing program — a program designed to make candidates less dependent on wealth donors — in order to pay for a voter disenfranchisement law.
Yet, while the Maine GOP may have won a skirmish in the war on voting with their repeal of same day registration, it is anything but certain that they will win this war. The state’s Democrats hope to invoke Maine’s “people’s veto” process, which allows the voters to repeal a newly enacted state law by referendum. To invoke this procedure, they must collect just over 57,000 signatures before a 90-day window closes.
By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, June 13, 2011