Friday, September 25, 2009

Clock Keeps Ticking, Justice Keeps Waiting In Jensen Case

On the right side of our blog's main page above the links, you'll find a clock keeping the time that has passed since former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen was charged with criminal misconduct in public office for his role in the Capitol caucus scandal. We'll keep it there until the Jensen case is finally brought to closure one way or the other. It will serve as an ongoing reminder of the vast difference between the treatment of ordinary citizens and a prominent political figure in our criminal justice system.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Increasingly Impersonal Nature Of Being A Person

Other than house-elves, politicians are about the only ones you'll ever hear refer to themselves in the third person. It's an annoying but fairly uncommon habit, even among the political class. There's even a word for it - illeism - but it's hardly a must-have in one's vocabulary.

More common in political-speak is the majestic plural. Nearly every politician nowadays is guilty of this one. Individual persons turning themselves into groups is weird, but that weirdness takes on greater currency now that there's renewed attention being paid to the U.S. Supreme Court's created-out-of-thin-air doctrine that corporations are people.

With the Supremes now seriously thinking of taking this pseudolegal dogma to ridiculous new extremes by letting corporations spend freely in elections, the New York Times asked today in an editorial where the judicial invention of corporate personhood will end. Will they get the right to vote? To hold office? To bear arms?

Good questions. But the sign to really watch for is when they start speaking of themselves in the first person.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Indiana Lawyer Defending Gableman

As state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman set out to fight off charges of judicial misconduct, either he felt there was not suitable legal representation to be found in Wisconsin or he couldn't find an attorney in the state who would represent him.

The technically nonpartisan Gableman has gone into battle with James Bopp of the Terre Haute, Indiana law firm Bopp, Coleson and Bostrom as his counsel. Bopp is best known as an anti-abortion lawyer as well as the lead attorney in all the legal challenges to the federal McCain-Feingold campaign reform law. But Bopp also is a member of the Republican National Committee who was part of a small band from the committee's far-right flank that sought to rig the selection process for RNC chair. He then showed his dissatisfaction with the party's choice as he sharply criticized new chair Michael Steele in April for refusing to call President Barack Obama a "socialist."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What's In The Water In Lake Geneva?

When Washington and Madison politics threatens to drive you insane, there's a need for some comic relief. Leave it to Lake Geneva.

The posh resort community is in a state of anarchy after the mayor attempted a banana republic-style coup, suspending four political opponents from the City Council and attempting to replace them with allies who happened to have been defeated in the last election by - you guessed it - none other than the four aldermen the mayor aims to oust.

The overthrow hit at least a temporary snag when the remaining council members balked at meeting to consider the appointed replacements. Leaving Lake Geneva without a functioning government, at least for the time being.

OK, so this is no laughing matter if you're in Lake Geneva. But with Congress and the Legislature returning to work after summer recess, there is both amusement and comfort in the knowledge that madness is not necessarily confined to capitals.

Monday, September 14, 2009

12 Things Every Democracy Needs

The following is excerpted from the text of the speech I gave at Saturday's Fighting Bob Fest entitled "A Democracy Worthy of the Name."

There are some things no true democracy can do without. Think of these as 12 minimum daily requirements, a basic subsistence diet:

1. Free speech

2. A free and independent press

3. Legitimate elections

4. Equal justice under the law

5. An ability to distinguish between democracy and commerce

6. An appreciation for and devotion to the commons

7. Citizenship

8. Civic education

9. A distribution of wealth sufficient to sustain a middle class

10. Religious freedom and a separation of church and state

11. Economic freedom and a separation of corporation and state

12. Dissent

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Changes To Records Proposal Hides Information From Public

Wisconsin judges and district attorneys would no longer have to provide information to the public about the property they own under changes made by Democratic legislators to a bill actually meant to increase public access to certain government documents.

The legislative measure was intended to increase public access to Statement of Economic Interest documents filed each year by about 2,100 public officials and others who serve on state boards and commissions. These forms (here and here, for example) describe their economic holdings - like land, buildings, stocks, bonds, business activities and other investments and income. The form also requires them to vaguely disclose the value of each holding.

The legislation would require the Government Accountability Board to post the documents on the Internet. For decades, people who want to see the documents have had to submit a written request, and their names are given to the public officials whose statement are viewed. That practice would stop.

But Democratic Representative Fred Kessler of Milwaukee, a former judge, convinced the committee to change the bill to prohibit the board from releasing information online or in any other form about property owned by judges and district attorneys.

Kessler said he wants the property information for judges and prosecutors kept secret because they are regularly harassed or threatened by people who have been in their courts.

Now no one wants to see judges, prosecutors or any other law enforcement officers put in peril, but the logic for excluding them is hard to pin down.

First, how routinely are judges and prosecutors statewide harassed?

Second, are judges and prosecutors who know the ins and outs of the law better than most of us just letting this pass, and if there is no current remedy, shouldn't there be one regardless of the public access issue raised here?

Third, how would limiting public access to these documents address that problem if the harassment and threats are already occurring?

And finally, some other public officials like state legislators have no doubt experienced harassment and threats so why single out judges and prosecutors for this special treatment?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

An Open Letter To John Roberts

Dear Chief Justice,

As you and your colleagues on the Supreme Court deliberate in the Citizens United case, I have two questions for you. Do corporations, labor unions and other organized special interest groups have too little say in the halls of government? Are their voices not adequately heard in election campaigns?

Nearly all Americans would answer "no." Most of the rest would say "hell no!"

The way you and your eight fellow justices answer these questions will decide this case. No pressure, but your answers also will set democracy's course in 21st Century America.


Worried in Wisconsin