Best Grinch Impersonation of the Season

In this update: 1. Supreme Court election reform law challenged in court 2. Justices acting like "schoolchildren" 3. Why Legislature did so little about drunk driving Best Grinch Impersonation of the Season

Email date: 12/21/09

In this update:
1. Supreme Court election reform law challenged in court
2. Justices acting like "schoolchildren"
3. Why Legislature did so little about drunk driving

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Supreme Court election reform law challenged in court
A lawsuit was filed in federal court Friday challenging the constitutionality of the recently enacted Impartial Justice Act. The legal action was expected. The only question was who would sue. Turns out it was the anti-abortion group Wisconsin Right to Life that did its best Grinch impersonation. The group is being represented by the same Indiana-based law firm that state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman brought in to defend him against charges of judicial misconduct.

The legal challenge is based on a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Davis v. FEC where the so-called Millionaire’s Amendment to the federal McCain-Feingold campaign reform law was overturned. Lawsuits citing Davis have been filed around the country challenging public financing programs that include what are known as trigger matching provisions that provide "rescue funds" to participating candidates who face high-spending opponents or attacks by outside special interest groups. The Impartial Justice Act contains such a provision. Groups like Wisconsin Right to Life are arguing that triggered matching funds in public financing programs are analogous to the Millionaire’s Amendment.

The ironic thing about the Millionaire’s Amendment is that it had nothing to do with a public financing system or trigger matching mechanisms. It freed privately financed candidates from contribution limits if they faced a high-spending self financed candidate.

The only court case that has made it back to the U.S. Supreme Court since Davis was decided was the challenge to North Carolina’s judicial public financing system. The federal court in the Fourth Circuit had unanimously upheld the constitutionality of North Carolina’s program, which is virtually identical to Wisconsin’s Impartial Justice Act and provides triggered matching funds to participating candidates. The Supreme Court declined to take the case, allowing the Fourth Circuit’s ruling to stand. So in the one state where there has been a post-Davis review by the U.S. Supreme Court of a challenge mounted on the same grounds as Wisconsin Right to Life is challenging Wisconsin’s new law, the law has survived. The fact that the Fourth Circuit’s unanimous ruling was allowed to stand leaves us feeling good about our chances here in Wisconsin.

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Justices acting like "schoolchildren"
Last Thursday, The Capital Times published a lengthy article about what the ongoing dispute over money in judicial elections has done to relations on Wisconsin’s highest court. It is not a pretty picture.

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Why the Legislature did so little about drunk driving
Under the tepid drunk driving legislation just passed by state lawmakers, Wisconsin remains the only state in the country where a first drunk driving offense is treated like a traffic offense, not a crime, unless a child under age 16 is in the car. You ask why? So did the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in an editorial in Sunday’s paper.

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Happy holidays from all of us at the Democracy Campaign. We wish you all the best in the new year.