In The News
On important April 5, THIS is the Supreme race
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted March 15, 2011
Scott Walker is clearly relying on the conservative top court to back his constitutional excesses. That is his biggest bulwark against surging public outrage – using the April 5 election to maintain that edge with a court too squeamish to cross him.
You may think there's something undemocratic about making distinctions among hard workers, some keeping rights, others losing them. You may see something immoral about squeezing the middle class and attacking the children of the poor while rewarding corporations and well-heeled parents. You may in your heart doubt if such a budget bill and emasculation of internationally recognized bargaining rights is even legal. But mostly you must wonder if the state’s highest judges feel free to simply decide based on basic values and the law.
The best candidate to answer that honestly is so sizeable an underdog that the voters asking such questions had better wake up fast.
She may be a respected prosecutor and moderate who in a 22-year legal career has worked in several administrations under four attorney generals from both parties. She may be a UW, Yale and Princeton graduate, a Peace Corp volunteer, a noted litigator and prosecutor at the Department of Justice since 1989 - and yet the public has barely heard of her and she won’t tip her hand on how she will vote.
That alone is a recommendation in most quarters but a liability in normal political circumstances. The times are not normal.
JoAnne Kloppenburg is also relying on public financing and hasn't been attacked much by the corporate money that usually swamps these campaigns – though if her numbers start climbing, look for that to change in the last two weeks.
Until Walker's shenanigans, too little attention has been paid to this race even though the court has been mired in dissension because of ethical lapses by two of its conservative members, Annette Zeigler, who sort of apologized and recuses herself from some decisions, and Michael Gableman, who has not apologized for his lying about a fellow jurist and still seems to be biding his time before stepping out with a full unseemly throat in decisions benefiting his corporate masters.
Voters are not yet galvanized to recognize the need to break the right-wing 4-3 edge on the court and slow Walker on constitutional issues he has dominated. The voters have to knock off incumbent David Prosser, an 18-year loyalist GOP veteran of the legislature before he was elevated to the court in 1999 by Gov. Tommy Thompson.
Prosser played a key role in the current gridlock, largely because his conservative buddy system overrode his duty. Insiders see no other reason he didn't agree with three colleagues that Gableman violated judicial ethics. He didn't want to slap a fellow conservative -- even just on the wrist! -- and the state has paid dearly for his lack of judicial guts.
How vital is Prosser to Walker's success? Progressive Ed Garvey spelled it out clearly in a recent column: "Pause and ask if the Republicans violated the laws with slick maneuver . . . Who will ultimately decide? The State Supreme Court, and that means David Prosser as the swing vote. You know Prosser as the ‘WMC Justice.’ Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce put about $6 million into his campaign. They spent like drunken sailors on leave. But they were not drunk; they knew what they were purchasing and so do you.
"When the Walker (bargaining rights) bill is tested in the Courts, who will ultimately decide if it violates the Wisconsin Constitution? David Prosser!"
Out of his own mouth Prosser destroyed any view that he could avoid bias on the bench. He actually offered himself as the "complement" to Walker and the state legislature.
Kloppenburg has correctly stayed above the current political fray because what Walker and the state legislature have done will come before the court. Prosser has already put his thumb on the scale (in 2010 he also reportedly gave out campaign literature against state Sen. Julie Lassa in favor of Sean Duffy for the House), confident that he has a majority of voters.
But that was before what just happened in Madison, so it is now this race that should be the first on the lips of every speaker at an anti-Walker rally: "Kloppenburg! Kloppenburg!"