Je récuse! Walker thinks Supreme Court justices who got aid from his pals can objectively consider the Doe case | WisCommunity

Je récuse! Walker thinks Supreme Court justices who got aid from his pals can objectively consider the Doe case

#444444;">Gov. Scott Walker offered up his usual tasty looking but utterly non-nutritious word salad when asked by a news reporter why the four conservative justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court should not recuse themselves if civil lawsuits aiming to blunt the John Doe investigation are taken up by the court. That, of course, is the John Doe investigation looking into Walker's own campaign activities. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today noted that those four conservative justices, forming the court's majority, all have received heavy financial support from three conservative interest groups. The Doe inquiry has looked at those same three groups for possibly breaching the firewall between candidate campaigns and supposedly independent political action.

#444444;">How, asked the reporter, could “justices” who collectively have benefited from more than a million dollars of “independent” campaign support fairly rule on a case involving that very same kind of support from the same groups on behalf of Walker and Republican state senators in recall elections? Walker, to no one's surprise, replied that he did not think any of the justices needed to recuse themselves from any case involving the Doe inquiry.

#444444;">The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted the governor's strange, meandering argument, in which he tried to claim that the potential conflict of interest “cuts both ways,” because (this is so silly, but he said it) the justices who didn't receive such support would be embittered as a result and thus face their own apparent conflict of interest. In fact, he suggested they might have an even bigger conflict! "You can make the argument that they'd be even more bitter about money being spent against them,” Walker said.

#444444;">Yes, Walker's argument is that any partisan bias by justices who benefited from hundreds of thousands of dollars of independent political expenditures is totally if not overly counterbalanced by the mere possibility -- thought up by Walker -- that justices who didn't get the same financial help would be embittered and thus themselves even more biased in the other direction! Wow. Word salad, indeed. 

#444444;">Aside from the fact that Walker's goofy equation doesn't take into account the existing U.S. Supreme Court ruling on what constitutes an apparent or real judicial conflict of interest (hint: it doesn't serve Walker's argument), his comments don't reflect actual reasoning, they're just phony mind-reading and political posturing.

#444444;">For the record, note that one of the justices in the state Supreme Court's minority, Ann Walsh Bradley, already has stepped aside in one of the cases involving the Doe inquiry merely because her son, who is not directly involved, works at a law firm where another lawyer is involved in the case. But Walsh didn't want the slightest possibility of an appearance of a conflict of interest to taint her participation. Walsh is perceived as liberal, but don't expect her conservative colleagues on the high court to pay much attention to calls for their own withdrawals on much more substantive grounds.

#444444;">An anonymous commenter here at Uppity recently pointed out a precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court that very much seems to require the recusals of those four justices, however. From Wikipedia:

#444444;">#252525;">Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal Co.#252525;">, ;">556 U.S. 868#252525;"> #252525;">(2009), is a case in which the ;">United States Supreme Court#252525;"> #252525;">held that the Due Process clause of the ;">Fourteenth Amendment#252525;"> #252525;">requires a judge to recuse himself not only when actual bias has been demonstrated or when the judge has an economic interest in the outcome of the case, but also when "extreme facts" create a "probability of bias."

#444444;">Imaginary embitteredness isn't much of an “extreme fact,” but millions in sidelong cash support would seem to be pretty extreme, indeed.

#444444;">The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign watchdog group has reported that three conservative interest groups mentioned in the Doe investigation spent huge sums to elect four conservatives who constitute a majority of the court's seven justices. The Wisconsin Club for Growth is estimated to have spent $400,000 for Annette Ziegler in 2007, $507,000 for Michael Gableman in 2008, and $520,000 for David Prosser in 2011. Yup, well-heeled conservatives continue to buy our courts, right up to our state's top court.

#444444;">Last year, #444444;">#000000;">incumbent Justice Pat Roggensack spent the bulk of the estimated $1.2 million doled out by all donors in the contest for that seat. Because the groups are not required to report how much they raise and spend on allegedly non-partisan “issue” ads in elections, exact numbers are not public. #444444;">#000000;">WDC estimated that Wisconsin Club for Growth Wisconsin, one of the groups mentioned in the Doe inquiry, alone spent a staggering $350,000 running supposedly non-partisan issue ads that helped Roggensack get far out in front of her opponent and then win. #444444;">#000000;">WDC calculated the spending based on TV ad buys and the value of other electioneering activity.

#444444;">#000000;">Walker also effectively embraced the Citizens United case and other court rulings that have conflated money with speech, Walker thinks the favorable bias of justices toward those conservative groups -- again, based on their spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in political advertising to help the justices win election -- is equal to unexpressed, imaginary speech of other justices who didn't get such help and who would thus in Walker's mind be biased against the givers. 

#444444;">#000000;">In essence, Walker defends evidently corrupt activity by his giant, institutional supporters on the basis that his perceived opponents wish they'd gotten the money, too, and are going to get revenge because they didn't. Talk about back-handed.#444444;">#000000;"> That kind of thinking might make for a happy daydream, but it is not a substantive defense in any kind of criminal proceeding, nor is it a reasonable defense against judicial recusal. #444444;">#000000;"> Indeed, it's so sweeping a declaration that, taken up by judges en masse, it might do away forever with the notion of any kind of empaneled judicial recusal in any sort of legal conflict.

#444444;">#000000;">The Republican Party is largely responsible for politicizing the judiciary in recent years. Now, Walker and company operate on the assumption that partisanship on the judicial bench is not only normal and to be expected, but a good thing, too. 

#444444;">#000000;">But also, Walker's view#444444;">#000000;"> again reveals#444444;">#000000;"> his self-serving mindset and how he regards others who don't always agree with him.#444444;">#000000;"> We should be off the hook because potentially it's their flaw, too -- and will be, if we have anything to say about it! #444444;">#000000;">Oh, poor, poor Governor Brutus. #444444;">#000000;">The virus of corruption eats away some more at the body politic.

Hey, governor, why not, while you're at it, further improve your odds of evading an unfavorable Supreme Court ruling and give those conservative justices free vacations, Cadillac Escalades or even some more cash, just to make sure their bias is at least as big as the bias you imagine exists among the remaining, “embittered” justices of other persuasions. Of course, that would turn this whole thing into an arms race, because, in your evident imagination, the other justices would then have additional reason to feel even more bitter. And the whole political pay-off thing would simply escalate, as indeed it has in the past few years since conservative courts struck down reasonable campaign finance regulations.

#000000;">So where should it all end? Here's an idea: It should end with you, Mr. Governor, and with the justices and all those “independent” political schemers who've blithely disobeyed remaining laws that prohibit such reckless, corrupt, and self-serving behavior. I know, I know. It's hard to wrap your head around ethics when you're living in an ethical black hole. But do try. Or more and more Wisconsin voters will do it for you.


September 26, 2014 - 2:51pm