Five Supreme Court justices who received significant political and financial support from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce should have done the right thing and recused themselves from Friday's decision upholding Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction independence from Gov. Scott Walker.
Instead, the WMC 5 -- Rebecca G. Bradley, Michael J. Gableman, David T. Prosser, Patience D. Roggensack, and Annette K. Ziegler -- participated in the decision.
THE WMC 5
And the credibility of the State Supreme Court dropped just a bit more, settling somewhere well below ground level.
Gableman wrote the majority decision, going against his gray masters at WMC, and Prosser concurred. Bradley, Roggensack and Ziegler dissented, supporting the business lobby.
None of them should have heard the case. Getting that much money and support from participants in this case was a conflict for the WMC 5 is a conflict before it ever came to a decision. It's far too easy to believe that Bradley, Roggesack, and Ziegler delivered in exchange for payment; and it is very hard to not to speculate, given how beholden Gableman and Prosser both are to WMC, why they crossed their benficiary -- was it really the merits of the case? It's impossible not to wonder what is going on in that big, dark shadow that WMC casts.
WMC, along with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and School Choice of Wisconsin, submitted a brief in the case supporting the pro-Walker forces. They were represented by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.
The court in 2010 changed its ethics rules so that justices do not have to recuse themselves based on endorsements or campaign contributions they get from parties involved in a case.
WMC is a big player in Supreme Court races -- big enough to prompt Gableman and Bradley to leave in the middle of oral argument make an appearance at a WMC political event.
It's not clear how much Bradley, elected to a full 10-year term in April, benefited from WMC's deep pockets, though the group was vocal in its support of her. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign suggested that WMC may have funneled funds through a new group, the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, which is not required to reveal its funding sources.
Other spending is clearer. WMC spent $2.25 million in support of Gableman in his 2008 race; spent $2.5 million on behalf of Ziegler in 2007; kicked in another $2 million or so to support Prosser; and $1 million to assist Roggensack.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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