The report described in this release is available here.

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 12, 2015: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers “have embarked on a brazen power grab of the state’s judiciary,” according to a new report from Alliance for Justice.

According to the report:

As he ramps up for a potential presidential run in 2016, Walker is using his executive budget to take control of judicial salaries; disband the independent council that advises all branches of state government on court practice and procedure; and weaken the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, the state body charged with investigating judicial ethics violations and recommending discipline. In the state legislature, Republicans are pushing measures that would directly undermine the will of Wisconsin voters who elected the current supreme court.

In addition, the report says, at the federal level, Wisconsin’s Republican U.S. Senator, Ron Johnson, is blocking efforts to fill a key vacancy on the Seventh  Circuit Court of Appeals.

“This would be sad in any state,” said AFJ President Nan Aron, “but it is doubly sad to see this decline in standards in Wisconsin.  For decades, Wisconsin inspired the nation by setting standards for integrity and fairness in government that were second to none.”

The report cites a series of actions by Wisconsin Republicans at the federal and state level.

  • Because of Sen. Johnson’s stalling, the vacancy on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has been open longer than any other appeals court vacancy in the nation – more than five years.
  • Republicans have been pushing legislation clearly aimed at Shirley Abrahamson, the chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. A referendum measure, placed on the ballot by Republican lawmakers, would effectively remove her as chief justice; another proposal would force her off the court entirely.
  • The conservative majority on the court lowered the court’s conflict-of-interest standards. They approved changes in requirements for when justices must “recuse” themselves – that is, decline to participate in a case.  Now, special interests can appear before judges to whom they’ve made campaign contributions – and they can give money to judges even as those judges are presiding over cases to which the donors are parties.

The changes were written by one of those special interests – Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC).

WMC is under investigation for allegedly coordinating its efforts with the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker when he was fighting an attempt to recall him from office.  The Wisconsin  Supreme Court will decide this year if that investigation can proceed.  A majority of the justices received big campaign contributions from WMC – and now they don’t have to recuse themselves.

“Wisconsin is better than this,” Aron said.  “We are confident that the people of Wisconsin will demand that the state’s traditions of integrity and fairness be restored.”

Alliance for Justice, believes that all Americans have the right to secure justice in the courts and to have their voices heard when government makes decisions that affect their lives. We are a national association of over 100 organizations, representing a broad array of groups committed to progressive values and the creation of an equitable, just, and free society. Through our justice programs, we lead the progressive community in the fight for a fair judiciary, and through our advocacy programs, we help nonprofits and foundations to realize their advocacy potential.