The recent Wisconsin Supreme Court election holds great portent for the integrity, impartiality, and independence of the judiciary, not only in Wisconsin, but throughout the country, in both federal and state systems. Anonymous phony issue ad groups have dominated recent Supreme Court elections and appointments. These groups have found a loophole that defeats and makes a mockery of laws intended to prevent the courts from becoming partisan political battlegrounds, and intended to prevent big moneyed interests from determining who can become a judge in America. Local discussion in the aftermath of the latest hijack of democracy brings this national and state issue into focus. Links in the text will flesh out the history and provide references.
“Nobody outside of a baby carriage or a judge’s chamber believes in an unprejudiced point of view.” (U.S. dramatist Lillian Hellman)
A reader last week commented (comment #9) on my article regarding the Wisconsin Supreme Court election. While I cannot concur with all of his points, I agree with many, including that it is the candidate who is running for election, not the candidate’s family or associates. I mentioned Justice Butler’s close family relationship to a police officer who was killed in the line of duty not to indicate his qualification for the position, but as a small part of the rebuttal of attacks made on Justice Butler that claimed he worked to free dangerous criminals, and did not support law enforcement. Under the circumstances of that outrageous slander directed at Justice Butler, that brief personal fact was a valid one to point out to readers.
It was also quite correct to point out that my description of Judge Gableman as “a mediocre third-stringer” was not substantiated in my article, and was “an open show of bias”. Mea culpa. I never linger in the middle of the road or pretend to be neutral about a subject that I find worth researching and writing on. However, I usually indicate facts or references that support and inform my writing. But with regards to that particular statement, I did not do so. A column I submitted before the election (but that was not published in the newspaper) provided substantiation (including links) for my assessment.
“It is the spirit and not the form of law that keeps justice alive.” (U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren)
In point number 7 of his comment, Mr. Luckjohn said, “The failure of both candidates to have any control over the ads that were run was surprising since both of them specialize in law.” That sentence exhibited a substantial, though understandable, lack of knowledge. First, the very worst ad that was run during the campaign (in fact, the very ad that “concerned” Luckjohn in point 7, and which he indicated was “verified…incorrect”) was personally authorized and later defended by Judge Gableman. So candidate Gableman did exert full control over that ad. (All other questionable campaign ads were run by PACs or by phony issue ad groups, not by the candidates’ official campaigns themselves.)
Second, it is illegal for candidates and staff to coordinate with issue advocacy groups or PACs that are engaging in election activity. Had either candidate tried to exert “control over the ads that were run” by PACs or phony issue ad groups (as Luckjohn encouraged) that candidate would have violated the law.
Since 1907, candidate’s official campaigns in Wisconsin cannot be funded by corporations. That has been true of labor unions since 1947. The candidate’s campaigns are controlled by ethics and election laws. Corporations or labor unions can however, operate PACs. PACs have to divulge their sources and amount of funding, but are not subject to the same rules that apply to candidates.
The all but unregulated phony issue ad groups can be formed by, and receive unlimited funds from, any individual, association, or corporation, from anywhere, and do not have to disclose who has formed or funded it. This is the loophole big enough to drive WTO Panamax freighters and NAFTA/CAFTA trains and semis through, side by side. For example, a hypothetical issue ad group calling itself “U.S. Citizens for Freedom and Democracy” anonymously organized and funded by corporations headquartered in the Cayman Islands or Saudi Arabia, could put up millions of dollars to discredit with lies and misleading statements Wisconsin candidates for public office who are suspected of opposing slavery and child labor, or air and water pollution, or of upholding the Bill of Rights or the right of workers to organize.
These phony issue ad groups have increasingly dominated recent Supreme Court elections both here and elsewhere. A good case can be made they have already bought our Wisconsin judiciary.
Basic non-partisan facts, definitions of terms, and the history and future of campaign financing and reform efforts in Wisconsin can be found at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and at the Wisconsin Clean Elections Coalition. See a concise explanation of the badly needed Impartial Justice Bill, which would implement the expressed unanimous plea of all members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign has just released a superb, easy-to use compilation of state legislative action or inaction regarding reforms needed to defend and restore democracy. This one page summary and color-coded ranking is not to be missed if you care about good government.
“Never try to reason the prejudice out of a man. It was not reasoned into him, and cannot be reasoned out.” (English essayist Sydney Smith)
Finally, despite all the agreement I find in the other points made, I cannot agree with Luckjohn’s implied denial that racism was significantly employed to defeat Justice Butler, and I can not agree on Luckjohn’s last point, scurrilously accusing Justice Butler of supporting something he calls “the gay agenda”. Human rights and civil rights belong to all people. The first responsibility for any Supreme Court Justice should be protecting those basic rights (not opposing “the gay agenda” to someone’s homophobic satisfaction).
There is no need or justification for hatred, fear, loathing, or condemnation of gay people. They don’t need your or my unsolicited advice or correction. I am not obsessed with them, as, sadly, some people appear to be. We have all served and worked and prayed with gays. I have known them as trusted friends, and am pleased and privileged to share our country and this blessed planet with them. We should defend human and civil rights for all. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, at least lay off the judging and condemning, and calling down of the courts, legislature, and police. A genuine spiritual adviser can give you a clue whether you qualify to cast stones, and in what sort of house it’s advisable to do so. Don’t expect our judicial system to manifest your bigotry. Instead, let us look deep inside the hidden corners of our own hearts for something there that finally needs spring-cleaning.