The Wisconsin Supreme Court is not only supposed to avoid corruption, but also avoid the perception of corruption. They and the state legislature are not doing a very good job of it. The upcoming Supreme Court probe into Governor Walker’s possible illegal campaign coordination, and the April 7 statewide vote on a constitutional amendment to change the way the court selects its chief justice, are classic examples.
Three of the groups that Walker is alleged to have coordinated with--and that are also targets of the probe--are the Wisconsin Club for Growth, Citizens for a Strong America, and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. All three derive funding from the Koch brothers.
Between 2007 and 2013, those three organizations spent more than $8 million to elect four conservative justices to the Court. Those four justices may now rule on a case involving the organizations that helped get them elected. The justices are not required to recuse themselves, and indications are that they will not. If that is not blatant corruption, it certainly creates the perception of corruption.
For added insurance, Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature want to remove liberal-leaning Shirley Abrahamson from her position as chief justice, prior to the Walker probe.
In spite of far more pressing matters to deal with, one of the first issues the 2015-2016 legislature took up was amending the state constitution to change the way the Wisconsin Supreme Court selects its chief. For the last 125 years, that selection has been based on tenure. With a majority of conservatives now on the court, the Republican legislature has approved an amendment to the constitution that would allow the justices to elect their chief.
Representative Brooks of the 50th Assembly District was one of the sponsors of that legislation. He has been less than honest about its purpose. Brooks and other Republicans deny that they are trying to get rid of Abrahamson as chief, but their denials smack of deceit.
The legitimate way to change the way the Court selects its chief would be to wait until 2019 when Abrahamson’s term ends, but Republicans refuse to wait.
Democrats suggested that the new rule could exempt Abrahamson, since she earned her position under the rules existing at the time, but Republicans flatly refused that also—revealing again that their true motive was to oust Abrahamson as chief.
Abrahamson was already chief when Wisconsin voters re-elected her for another ten-year term in 2009. Wisconsin voters have therefore given their approval of her as chief. The Republican maneuver is a slap in the face to Wisconsin voters.
Wisconsin voters can restore some measure of legitimacy to the Court by voting NO to the amendment on April 7. That would also send a message to the Koch brothers that Wisconsin is not a subsidiary of Koch Industries.