by Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director
March 10, 2017
Justice Pat Roggenack
On March 8 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an article entitled, “Roggensack hits peers ‘tough talk’ with her own,” I noticed with some amusement that Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack doesn’t take kindly to some of the criticism her court has been getting – including from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
As an example, she quoted a statement we made saying the Wisconsin Supreme Court was a “corrupt, rigged, and renegade court.”
Please allow me a chance to defend that characterization, which I believe remains accurate and fitting.
Exhibit A: In July 2010, by a 4-3 vote, the conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court voted to amend the code of judicial conduct, allowing judges to hear cases even from those who contribute to their campaigns. The conservative majority adopted the new language, which was actually written by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Realtors Association.
Exhibit B: In July 2015, the Wisconsin Supreme Court stopped the John Doe investigation, which was looking into alleged coordination between Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and some outside groups, including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the Wisconsin Club for Growth, and Citizens for a Strong America. Together, these three groups spent more than $8 million to help elect the four conservative justices who voted to squash the investigation. Roggensack herself benefitted from $500,000 in expenditures by WMC and $350,000 from Wisconsin Club for Growth. Roggensack did not recuse herself from sitting on this case; nor did the other three conservative jurists.
So that covers the “corrupt” and “rigged” adjectives.
Now for “renegade.”
Exhibit C: In their ruling stopping the John Doe investigation, the Wisconsin Supreme Court legalized coordination between candidates and outside issue-ad groups, citing the First Amendment. But as the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has noted, "No opinion issued by the Supreme Court, or by any court of appeals, establishes ('clearly' or otherwise) that the First Amendment forbids regulation of coordination between campaign committees and issue-advocacy groups – let alone that the First Amendment forbids even an inquiry into that topic."
The shoddy legal reasoning of the Wisconsin Supreme Court continues to the present day.
Exhibit D: In one recent case, The State of Wisconsin vs. Denny, the court refused to allow a prisoner to pay for DNA testing that he claimed would exonerate him. A majority of the court came to the ludicrous conclusion that he could “examine” the sample but he couldn’t test it!
Exhibit E: And in another case, Voces de la Frontera vs. Clarke, the court swerved way out of its way to overturn decisions by the circuit court and the appellate court and thereby permit Sheriff David Clarke to refuse to disclose records about the people he is holding on immigration charges. As Associate Editorial Page Editor Ernst-Ulrich Franzen rightly noted in his column on Feb. 28, “The highest court in the state should be taking the side of citizens and open government. Instead, the majority of justices are slapping both in the face.”
The Wisconsin Supreme Court is making a laughingstock of itself, but Chief Justice Roggensack doesn’t want to hear the laughter.
If she can’t stand the heat, she should get out of the chief justice’s chair.