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Wisconsin Supreme Court: A Study In Judicial Dysfunction

Harsh state judicial campaigns financed by ever larger amounts of special interest money are eating away at public faith in judicial impartiality. There are few places where the spectacle is more shameful than Wisconsin, where over-the-top campaigning, self-interested rulings, and a complete breakdown of courthouse collegiality and ethics is destroying trust in its Supreme Court.

On Monday, a special prosecutor was named to investigate an altercation between two justices on opposite sides of the court’s bitter ideological divide. Ann Walsh Bradley, a member of the court’s liberal wing, has charged that David Prosser, a conservative, put her in a chokehold during a heated exchange shortly before the court upheld the new state law eliminating most collective-bargaining rights for public employees.

Justice Prosser has disputed Justice Bradley’s version of what occurred, and the facts remain unclear. What is certain is that Justice Prosser should have recused himself from that ruling. His vote to uphold the law occurred shortly after his re-election campaign in which he benefited from heavy anti-union independent spending.

Justice Prosser won the April election by a very small margin, prompting a recount. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that he then raised more than $270,000 for the recount, much of it in $50,000 chunks. (The contribution limits that apply under Wisconsin’s public financing system for judicial races do not extend to recounts.) Some $75,000 of the haul was used to pay fees to a law firm led by an attorney representing conservative groups in a case challenging state campaign disclosure rules, which is scheduled to be heard by the court next month.

Given the lawyer’s role in Justice Prosser’s recent recount success, a reasonable person might well question the judge’s impartiality on that case, too. After first saying he had no intention of recusing himself, Justice Prosser on Thursday asked the parties in the campaign finance case to file memos stating their views about recusal. It should not take a formal request for him to step aside.

A contentious 4-to-3 decision by the court last month declared recusal decisions by the justices to be unreviewable. In another sign of the court’s dysfunction, the deciding vote came from Justice Patience Roggensack, whose involvement in an earlier case was the subject of the disqualification motion that the court was reviewing. Like the ruling itself, Justice Roggensack’s participation in judging her own conduct showed astounding disregard for legal ethics and every litigant’s right to impartial justice. The problems don’t even stop there. A year ago, by another 4-to-3 vote along ideological lines, the court weakened the recusal standard by adopting a rule saying that campaign fund-raising or expenditures can never be the sole basis for a judge’s disqualification. The rule was largely written by a business group that has spent lavishly in judicial campaigns.

Members of Wisconsin’s top court need to focus on restoring civility and public trust. For starters, they should scrap last year’s decision on campaign money in favor of strict disclosure requirements for lawyers and litigants. They should also adopt an appeals process for recusals, so the final decision is no longer left to the judge whose impartiality is being questioned. The court’s credibility, and justice in Wisconsin, are on the line.

 

By: New York Times Editorial, August 19, 2011

August 20, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Corporations, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Justice, Politics, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Teaparty, Union Busting, Unions, Voters, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Battle of Ohio: Facing Referendum, Republicans Now Want to Compromise

With the Battle of Wisconsin reaching a temporary lull after the recent recall elections, attention is shifting to another midwestern state, where opponents of recently enacted union-bashing legislation have far exceeded the threshold of petitions needed to get a referendum repealing the measure on a November ballot.

With polls consistently showing Ohio voters favoring the repeal initiative (by 50-39 in a new PPP poll, and by larger margins in earlier polls), Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislative leaders are suddenly asking for meetings to seek a compromise on Senate Bill 5, which was enacted in March on a party-line vote.

Kasich hurried to sign the bill soon after it passed in order to force opponents to seek a referendum this year rather than in the higher-turnout 2012 presidential cycle.

But now Republicans are seeking to head off the referendum, or (since SB 5 opponents have made it clear that total repeal of the bill is a precondition to talks about how it might be replaced with compromise legislation) more likely, trying to strengthen their hand in the referendum fight by appearing reasonable.  It’s a little late for that.

So the referendum fight is fully on, and as November approaches, you can expect the kind of national labor/progressive coalition that mobilized for the Wisconsin recalls to focus on Ohio.

 

By: Democratic Strategist Staff, August 19, 2011

August 19, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, GOP, Gov John Kasich, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Teaparty, Union Busting, Unions, Voters, Wisconsin | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recall Summer: “Wisconsin Is Not A Right-Wing State”

The last two Wisconsin recalls ended in victory for two incumbent Democrats, leaving the Republicans with a 17-to-16 majority in the State Senate.

The Democrats prevailed handily last night — State Sen. Bob Wirch won in southeastern Wisconsin with 58 percent of the vote and Democratic Sen. Jim Holperin won in the northern part of the state with 55 percent.

The bottom line: Two Republicans were recalled from the Senate, while not one Democrat lost a recall race. Republican had hoped there would be a backlash against Democratic senators who left the state to prevent a quorum during the battles earlier this year over Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposals to strip away the collective-bargaining rights of public employee unions. That backlash did not materialize.

What’s clear is that the fight has moved public opinion the Democrats’ way, but not as fast or as dramatically as the Democrats had hoped. Wisconsin’s premier progressive political writer, John Nichols, noted that Walker’s opponents “have prevailed in the majority of recall elections and claimed the majority of votes cast in what many saw as a statewide referendum on Walker’s policies.”

Nichols acknowledged that the Democrats’ majority in these races was narrow — roughly 243,000 votes to 239,000 — but he added that “Walker won these districts in 2010, and . . . Republican Senate candidates easily won six of them in 2008.”

So will there be a recall campaign against Walker? My hunch is yes, but Walker seems to be trying to blunt this prospect by sounding uncharacteristically moderate. And at least one moderate Republican in the State Senate could give Democrats the ability to block any further legislation that veers too far right. This could lower the political temperature and that, paradoxically, could help Walker slip by a recall.

But anybody who thinks that the country is still in the same mood as it was in November 2010 should consult these results. In Wisconsin, there was a backlash against a right-wing that overreached. National polls suggest the same thing is happening to conservatives in the House of Representatives. Wisconsin is not a right-wing state, and this is not a right-wing country. That’s the message of recall summer.

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 17, 2011

August 18, 2011 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Governors, Ideologues, Ideology, Labor, Politics, Public, Public Employees, Public Opinion, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Union Busting, Unions, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , | Leave a comment

Wisconsin Voters To Unions: “We’re Just Not That Into You”

Last night, Democrats in Wisconsin fell short by one in their effort to regain control of the Wisconsin State Senate.

While there is no question that the drive to pick up seats via the recall elections, staged in decidedly Republican districts, was a difficult undertaking – and there is some reason for Democrats to celebrate having won two seats in these GOP areas- there is no spinning out of the truth of this election.

The loss was both hard and significant on a number of levels.

Had the election been influenced by a low voter turnout – something that typically bodes ill for Democrats – that would have put a different face on the story.

But the turnout was spectacular. And, based on the results, Republicans were every bit as energized as Democrats.

GOP supporters had the backs of their sitting Senators, coming to the polls in big numbers to deliver the message that they too are as engaged and energized in the battle taking place in Wisconsin as the progressives and that is precisely what should have those who oppose the conservative agenda – in Wisconsin and throughout the nation – shaking in their boots.

The GOP was not just sending the message that they too know how to show up at the polls. They had a deeper message to send, one that was addressed to the unions. It was a message that came through loud and clear.

We’re (the voters) just not that into you.

The unions poured some $20 million dollars in the Wisconsin effort. For their money, they improved their minority in the State Senate by two votes but failed to come away with the majority required to put the breaks on Governor Scott Walker’s agenda.

That’s a lot of cash to spend for the return achieved.

While the other side also poured serious cash into the state, organizations like Club For Growth can, at the least, come away from the battle knowing that their agenda has not been stymied and, for as long as Governor Walker sits in the state house, they remain free and unfettered in their efforts to move their mission forward while pushing the state of Wisconsin – and the country – backward.

Now, the Wisconsin Democrats are left to determine their plans for the future, particularly with respect to the proposed recall effort against Governor Scott Walker.

The good news is that last night’s battles were fought on enemy territory while a statewide recall will bring the Democratic faithful throughout the state into play.

The bad news is that we’ve now learned that those who support the Walker agenda – and we’d best acknowledge that there are far more of them than Badger State Democrats might have wanted to realize- will not be sitting idly by when it comes to supporting an agenda of wiping out collective bargaining rights, cutting education and healthcare to the bone and disenfranchising those who are more likely to cast their vote for Democrats.

I suspect that the Walker recall will go forward – but that won’t happen until next year.

In the meantime, the attention turns to the ballot measure in Ohio seeking to repeal the anti-collective bargaining law passed by Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio legislature. The initiative will appear on the statewide ballot on November 8th and will permit all voting Ohioans to weigh in on how they feel about the effort to end unions in America. A “yes” would be a vote to retain the law while a “no” will be a vote to repeal.

If I were a Democrat in Wisconsin, I’d plan on spending the next few months in Ohio working hard for the repeal effort. If ‘just say no’ fails in the Ohio election, the writing you see on the wall will be the formal announcement of the tragic death of the union movement in the United States of America.

By: Rick Ungar, The Policy Page, Forbes, August 11, 2011

August 11, 2011 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Corporations, Democracy, Democrats, Economy, Education, Elections, GOP, Gov John Kasich, Gov Scott Walker, Government, Governors, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Lawmakers, Lobbyists, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Teaparty, Union Busting, Unions, Voters, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Republican’s Hate Democracy: Wisconsin GOP Rep Wants To Amend State Constitution To End Recalls

State Rep. Robin Vos said he wants to “recall the recalls.”

The Rochester Republican and chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee said Wednesday he is drafting an amendment to the state constitution to require those pushing to recall state officials to state their reasons for doing so.

“No longer should taxpayer dollars be wasted on unnecessary recall elections that were triggered by a vote that some special interest group didn’t like.” Vos said in a statement. “It undermines our democracy and wastes precious taxpayer dollars that are needed elsewhere.”

His comments came a day after Democrats won two seats in the state Senate, one shy of what they would have needed to take control of the chamber. Four other Republicans held onto their seats in a set of recall elections for state lawmakers unparalleled in the country’s history.

Vos said his proposed constitutional amendment would require those trying to recall a state official to state a reason they are doing so when they file paperwork with the state. Such a statement is already required for recalling local officials.

Vos said he wants the proposal to be the first piece of legislation passed this fall. If passed, it would need to be approved again by the Legislature in 2013 or 2014 and then by voters in a referendum.

 

By: Patrick Marley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 10, 2011

August 10, 2011 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Corporations, Democracy, Elections, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Labor, Lawmakers, Lobbyists, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Teaparty, Union Busting, Unions, Voters, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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