Monday, June 18, 2018

U.S. Supreme Court Delays Decision for Now on Wisconsin Gerrymander Court Case



For Release: Monday - June 18, 2018

But the Issue Remains Very Much Alive and In Play Here and Elsewhere

The Supreme Court of the United States this morning issued a decision in which they declined to rule on the merits of Gill v. Whitford, the Wisconsin state legislative gerrymandering case. There was essential agreement by the court that "standing" was at issue in this case, not the merits of the case itself, and that therefore this is not the vehicle in which to judge excessive partisanship as a constitutional matter at this time. The Court said unanimously that they were returning the Wisconsin case to the Federal District Court to give plaintiffs the opportunity to demonstrate specific and concrete harms as a result of partisan gerrymandering.

But the issue is far from "dead," as guardians of the current, corrupt system might hope. The Wisconsin case – as well as one in Maryland and one in North Carolina – could still bring about a favorable decision on ending excessive partisan gerrymandering.

"Today, the U.S. Supreme Court did nothing to address the unconstitutionality of one of the most partisan gerrymanders of state legislative districts (2011) in American history, but we remain hopeful that standing can be addressed and we can win justice in the courts" said Jay Heck, the long-time executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin. “We even more urgently renew our call on the Wisconsin Legislature to replace this broken system with a transparent, non-partisan process modeled after our neighbor, Iowa, in time for the 2021 redistricting cycle, if not before." Heck added.

"I am disappointed with today's non-decision by the U.S. Supreme Court," said Tim Cullen, the Chair of the CC/WI State Governing Board. "But this fight is not over until gerrymandering ends. We must move forward quickly to get fair voting maps in place as soon as possible," he added. Cullen, a former State Senate majority leader, was a leading supporter of non-partisan redistricting reform in the Wisconsin Legislature.





CONTACT:

Jay Heck
608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)




Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI  53703
608/256-2686

Want Good Government?
Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
www.CommonCauseWisconsin.org



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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Stronger Judicial Recusal Rules Needed Now: Before Upcoming WI Supreme Court Election in Early 2019



For Release: Wednesday - June 13, 2018


Wisconsin has the 47th weakest judicial rules in the nation for recusal by judges at all levels with regard to receiving campaign contributions or benefiting from spending by outside special interest groups. Essentially Wisconsin doesn't have any requirement to step aside when it comes to political money.

Judges can decide for themselves whether to step aside, or not.

This "non-rule" is awful because it was written verbatim by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) and the Wisconsin Realtors Association and adopted by a narrow 4 to 3 vote by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2010.

Earlier this year, WMC spent about $1 million to influence the outcome of the Supreme Court election between Rebecca Dallet and Michael Screnock, primarily on scurrilous, nasty and largely untrue ads attacking Dallet. Had Screnock (WMC's anointed candidate) won the election, he would not have been required to recuse himself from a case before the Wisconsin Supreme Court in which WMC was a party. Even though Screnock benefited from $1 million in spending by WMC. That is so absurd it is beyond comprehension or logic.

The urgent need for strong judicial recusal rules was a front-and-center issue in the Dallet-Screnock election. Dallet supported them and Screnock opposed them. Dallet won the election handily in a major upset. Unquestionably, Dallet's support for strong judicial recusal rules helped her, while Screnock's opposition to them hindered his effort.

In less than six months, another election will be underway to fill the Wisconsin Supreme Court seat being vacated, after 42 years, by Justice (and formerly Chief Justice) Shirley Abrahamson. This election will no doubt be mightily contested and millions of dollars will be spent – most by big donors and "outside" special interest groups.

The need for stronger judicial rules for judges at all levels should and will be a central issue again.


To help raise the visibility of this critical issue, CC/WI just released it's third informational video about the role of big campaign contributions and the need for stronger recusal rules. Marquette University Law School Professor Edward Fallone, a candidate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2013, does a superb job of framing the issue in this short video. We believe you will like it and learn from it:



Earlier this year, we produced and released two other videos on this issue which we also urge you to watch and share. The first one features former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices Janine Geske and Louis Butler:



The second video, also released earlier this year, features Wisconsin citizens talking about the issue, expressing surprise about how weak our recusal rules are, and saying why they believe we have got to have stronger rules now:



Please feel free to share these widely – with family, friends or complete strangers! Education about issues leads to action and positive change. Be a change agent.

And here is further incentive to be concerned about this issue, if you need it. Currently, Illinois has stronger judicial recusal rules than does Wisconsin. Yes, even Illinois!

That must change.

On Wisconsin!





CONTACT:

Jay Heck
608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)




Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI  53703
608/256-2686

Want Good Government?
Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
www.CommonCauseWisconsin.org



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Thursday, June 7, 2018

Wisconsin Still Waiting for U.S. Supreme Court Decision That May End Hyper-Partisan Gerrymandering



For Release: Thursday June 7, 2018


This past Monday morning, political reform "geeks" – like us at CC/WI – huddled over the U.S. Supreme Court website, eagerly anticipating and expecting the nation's highest court to render its long-anticipated decision in Gill v. Whitford, the case in which a federal court declared that Wisconsin's hyper-partisan, secretive, expensive (to Wisconsin taxpayers) gerrymandered redistricting process in 2011 by the Republicans, was unconstitutional.

In November 2016, a panel of three federal judges said that, in effect, the partisan Republican maps violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and effectively disenfranchised many voters who voted for Democratic state legislative candidates because – even if a majority of voters voted Democratic – there was no chance that a Democratic legislative majority could be achieved because of the way the voter maps were configured, in secret, and at tremendous cost to Wisconsin taxpayers.

The U.S. Supreme Court accepted the case for consideration and judgment last year and oral arguments were heard last October. Earlier this year, the Court combined the Wisconsin case with a partisan gerrymander by Democrats of a congressional district in Maryland that had long elected a Republican.

Their decision was not handed down last Monday. We are now expecting that the decision could come as soon as this Monday, June 11th.

Last Sunday, CC/WI Director Jay Heck appeared on the statewide ABC public affairs television program: "UpFront With Mike Gousha," to preview this critical decision, and particularly what it means for Wisconsin voters. You can view that segment here.

We will be back on watch this early Monday morning to digest the expected decision and let you know what it means. Stay tuned.




CONTACT:

Jay Heck
608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)




Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI  53703
608/256-2686

Want Good Government?
Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
www.CommonCauseWisconsin.org



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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

State Supreme Court Election Results Demonstrate Widespread Citizen Support for Stronger Judicial Recusal Rules



Tuesday - April 10, 2018


Election Winner Supported Them; Loser Did Not

Last week's Wisconsin Supreme Court election results – and the size and scope of Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Rebecca Dallet's victory over Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Michael Screnock – demonstrated the high level of citizen support for stronger judicial recusal rules for judges in the state. That issue became a central focus of the election campaign with Dallet, who supported strong recusal rules, decisively defeating Screnock – who, not only opposed strong rules, but spent much of the campaign trying to obscure the issue altogether.

According to the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice of New York University, the most accurate tracker of the money spent in this and other Wisconsin Supreme Court elections:

"The nonpartisan election saw $2.6 million in spending on television and radio ads alone, with more than $1.7 million coming from outside groups. Outside groups’ ads focused on candidates’ rulings in criminal cases – one ad described Dallet as “one of Wisconsin’s toughest judges,” and one ad argued Screnock “has a record of throwing the book at murderers, abusers and predators.” Ads also attacked Dallet and Screnock for allegedly ruling leniently in particular criminal cases. The race attracted national attention, including robocalls by former Vice President Joe Biden on behalf of Dallet, and spending by the National Rifle Association on behalf of Screnock.

The race elevated judicial recusal as a central issue. Despite recent reform efforts, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court has maintained lax recusal rules, which say that campaign contributions alone are insufficient grounds for recusal. Dallet and Screnock debated whether their opponent would step aside in cases involving special interests or lawyers who supported their campaigns. Dallet said after her victory that “one of her top priorities…is to reopen the idea of changing the court’s recusal rules.”

The biggest outside spender in the election, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), spent about a million dollars, including on particularly vicious and largely untrue attack ads against Dallet on a criminal matter. WMC, a business organization, was willing to tear down Dallet at any cost, to protect their investment in Screnock and his opposition to strong judicial recusal rules. Citizens might ask how running nasty, untrue attack ads is good for "business" in Wisconsin.

The current "non-rule" on judicial recusal was written by WMC in 2010 and was adopted verbatim by a narrow 4 to 3 conservative majority. It basically said that judges should recuse themselves from a case only if they felt the need to do so. Large contributions to their campaigns or a significant amount of money spent by a so-called "independent," outside special interest group (such as WMC) to benefit a candidate, do not trigger recusal from a case if the donor or outside group is a party to a case before the judge or justice – as it does in almost every other state.

As a result of this pathetic standard, Wisconsin has been judged to have the 47th weakest judicial recusal rules in the nation.

CC/WI has spent much of the past six months educating thousands of Wisconsin citizens about the need for stronger judicial recusal rules for judges at all levels. We strongly support the specific proposal put forward in January, 2017 by 54 retired Wisconsin jurists at all levels, in the form of a petition to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which was not only rejected by a 5 to 2 margin, but denied even a public hearing, almost exactly a year ago. CC/WI organized public hears last Fall in Green Bay, Milwaukee and in Madison, and this year has been further educating citizens over social media through two short videos on the subject of judicial recusal:





Please view both of these videos and let us know what you think. And share them with others so that more citizens will be educated about the need for reform in this critical area. Already more than 20,000 Wisconsinites have viewed them on our website, Facebook and YouTube. Please join them!

The issue of judicial recusal will continue to be very important this year as the Wisconsin Supreme Court will continue to be pressed to hold public hearings and consider stronger recusal rules. And the issue will likely play a central role in the upcoming 2019 State Supreme Court election, now less than a year away.

For more on this issue and for CC/WI's commentary on the 2018 WI Supreme Court election, go here, here, and here.

On Wisconsin!




CONTACT:

Jay Heck
608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)




Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI  53703
608/256-2686

Want Good Government?
Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
www.CommonCauseWisconsin.org



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