Take back justice from money’s grip
One of the state’s greatest ethical flaws is the absence of a rule requiring Wisconsin Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves in cases involving their major campaign donors.
It’s bad enough our highest court is dominated by judges who’ve already been compromised by accepting millions of dollars from special interest groups. They also can sit in judgment on cases involving those same groups and the wealthy people behind them.
A national legal expert told The New Yorker the lack of a recusal rule had turned “one of the nation’s most respected state tribunals into a disgraceful mess.”
The rule to have no conflict-of-interest rule was not written by elected officials, but rather by two of the state’s biggest Republican bankrollers — Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Realtors Association. The court’s Republican majority, all of whom received money from those groups, adopted their recommendation seven years ago.
In January, 54 retired Wisconsin judges from across the political spectrum decided that something must be done about the situation.
The retired judges submitted a petition to the high court that said: “As money in elections becomes more predominant, citizens rightfully ask whether justice is for sale. The appearance of partiality that large campaign donations cause strikes at the heart of the judicial function, which depends on the public’s respect for its judgments.”
The solution requested by the petitioners was modest: to establish a ceiling for the amount of money a justice can take without recusal.
In April, the court voted down the proposal 5-2, along well-paid-for party lines.
In high dudgeon, Justice Rebecca Bradley — who was fast-tracked onto the court by Scott Walker and the same groups that wrote the offensive rule — explained her vote against the petition: “Every judge and justice in Wisconsin should be highly offended by this petition because it attacks their integrity.”
On the contrary, every rational Wisconsinite should be offended that their highest court wants to leave open a door to corruption, undermining the public’s belief that justice, not political favors, is being served.
The recent attempts by Common Cause, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and the American Association of University Women to encourage citizens of the state to discuss judicial ethics are praiseworthy.
But as it stands, it would take a miracle to elect a justice next year who’s not under obligation to the right-wing corporate agenda. The Big Business groups and their dark-money political action committees appear to have limitless financial resources — WMC and Wisconsin Club for Growth spent more than $10 million between 2007 and 2014 on ads to elect the court’s right-wing majority.
That money will allow nonstop ad campaigns against any candidate they can’t count on. Those ads will promulgate distorted truths and lies that will be amplified by their right-wing media partners. Their propaganda machine is savvy and well-oiled.
The only person who can turn the tide on their reign of greed and corruption is you. Wake up, Wisconsin. While you were sleeping, your courts were sold to the highest bidders. Take back justice for the people who rightfully own the state — you.
To learn more about the recusal issue, contact Common Cause at 608-256-2686 or email email@example.com.