Thursday, April 7, 2011

Wisconsin Supreme Court: more shenanigans

The most recent Wisconsin judicial election has been a topsy-turvy affair.

On February 15, incumbent David Prosser won the "nonpartisan" primary in a rout with some 55% of the vote.  Despite getting a majority, he had to face the second-place finisher (JoAnne Kloppenburg, who got just 25% of the vote) in a general election.  It was expected to be a cakewalk, as most reelections are for judicial incumbents. 

But then all sorts of interesting politics went down in Wisconsin.  As a result, certain factions of the electorate got energized, and directed that energy to an effort to defeat Justice Prosser.  Plenty of national money came into the mix, too, and things got nasty.

The election was very close.  Bush-Gore-in-Florida close.  The initial tally had Kloppenburg ahead by just 224 votes out of about 1.5 million cast.  On Wednesday morning, Kloppenburg declared victory.

On Thursday, however, some errors in the initial tally were discovered in Winnebago County.  Errors substantial enough to give Prosser a 50-or-so vote lead.  Then, near the end of the day today, news surfaced that the Waukeshaw County clerk had mistakenly omitted from her initial tally all the votes from the City of Brookfield -- some 14,000 votes.  That's Prosser country.

Now that these votes are in, Prosser is up by some 7,500 votes.

What will Friday bring?

Barring further Brookfield-sized revelations, the result, it seems, is that Prosser now has an insurmountable lead.  There will likely be a recount, but it is now doubtful to affect the outcome.

The election became something of a referendum on Governor Scott Walker's radical proposals to cut the size of the state government and bust public employee unions.  After the initial results, Democrats were overjoyed -- comparing it to Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts, which presaged the Republican / Tea Party rout last fall.  Now Republicans are bubbly, feeling as though they've taken the left's best counter-punch and remain standing.

However you spin it, one thing is sure:  more fun stuff is coming.  Dane County Judge Sumi has enjoined the enactment of the controversial collective bargaining bill based on an allegation that the legislature violated the open meetings law in passing the law.  (Although she issued a temporary restraining order, Judge Sumi has now set a seven-week briefing schedule for responses from the parties on three legal issues.)  The state long ago appealed the TRO, but the court of appeals just sent it up to the Supreme Court without review.  Now the Walker administration has filed its own case to end the injunction.  It has gone straight to the Supreme Court seeking a "supervisory writ" on the theory that Judge Sumi has exceeded her authority by issuing an order that "violates fundamental principles of separation of powers and does serious and irreparable harm to our constitutional system of government."

So, one way or another, the Wisconsin Supreme Court is going to have its say.  My prediction:  a sloppy majority opinion and a sarcastic dissent.

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