Tag Archives: judicial elections

Corrupting the Courts

Can we talk about checks and balances? The rule of law?

On July 16th, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned that state’s limits on money in politics, and handed Scott Walker a significant political victory as he began his (thus far pathetic) campaign for the White House.

If the case had been argued and decided on legal principles, it would be unremarkable, no matter how unfortunate “good government” advocates might consider the consequences. But it wasn’t. Walker’s victory was political, not legal. As Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Policy, explained in the wake of the decision,

“The dark money groups that bankrolled the Walker team’s recall victories got the decision they wanted from the justices they swept into office with their spending.”

Defenders of judicial elections point out that it is impossible to remove politics from other methods of judicial selection, and that is certainly true. But those processes–like the one we follow in Indiana, where a panel of lawyers “vets” candidates and sends three names to the Governor–do not involve the obscene amounts of money and the blatantly political motivations that characterized the Wisconsin high court election.

The Wisconsin Club For Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturer’s and Commerce, the organizations that brought the lawsuit, spent $3,685,000 supporting Justice David Prosser in his 2011 race (five times as much as the Prosser campaign itself). The election was decided by just 7,000 votes. Anyone who doubts that expenditures at that level were meant to “buy” judicial outcomes is living in a fantasy world.

In Wisconsin, what that money bought was an elimination of checks and balances, ensuring that the judicial branch would roll over and play dead when faced with corrupt activity by the executive.

“It comes as no surprise that a court elected with $10 million in support from the same dark money groups under investigation would overturn years of precedent and open the door to unlimited secret funds in Wisconsin elections, fully coordinated with candidates,” said Brendan Fischer, General Counsel of the Center for Media and Democracy.

The groups challenging the probe, Wisconsin Club for Growth (WiCFG) and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), allegedly coordinated with Walker and were parties to the case, and also among the top spenders on Wisconsin Supreme Court elections.Justices Michael Gableman and David Prosser were both elected to the court by narrow margins and with huge expenditures by WMC and WiCFG, yet declined a motion from Special Prosecutor Schmitz to recuse themselves from the case. In court filings, Walker’s lawyer also argued against the recusal motion.

In Wisconsin, partisans used judicial elections to buy the result they wanted. In Kansas, where the courts recently invalidated an administrative change desired by the state legislature, the legislature has threatened to defund the judicial branch. 

And of course, we have candidates for the highest office in the land supporting the right of a county clerk to ignore the highest court in the land.

Rule of law, anyone?