I have spent two lunch hours this week swimming in the flotsam and jetsam of the Supreme Court contest between Justice Louis Butler and Judge Mike Gableman. I saw both of the candidates this afternoon in an appropriately-edgy forum at the Milwaukee Bar Association. The day before, I entered the dark world of the Federalist Society to see part of the right-wing Gableman brain trust scheme over how to further politicize the bench. At the FS lunch on Tuesday (about which more in a post tomorrow), one of the stars of right-wing impact litigation got soundly thumped by a humble lawyer from the Brennan Center. And, at the MBA today, Justice Butler took the hapless judge from far-flung Barnett County to the woodshed where he was paddled like a bad school-child in an 18th-century novel.
Louis Butler is a friend of mine and Gableman is the kind of in-the-bag cipher I would fight against in any event, so I am hardly objective. But, in front of a dozen or so county judges and other Milwaukee legal stalwarts, Butler wound up and let Gableman have it. The WMC-recruited candidate (he all but admitted it) stuck to his script and refused to answer the questions that any candidate with judicial self-respect would. Never before has a Supreme Court race in Wisconsin been sullied with such an obvious partisan who was willing to do and say anything to get elected for the benefit of his wealthy patrons.
Gableman is a different sort than last year’s WMC candidate, Annette Zeigler. Zeigler just laid low and didn’t really get personally involved in her own campaign, lest her ethical violations ruling in favor of her husband’s bank in numerous cases get into too high contrast. She sat silently by while the WMC ran roughshod over her competition. Gableman, though, seems to revel in getting in the fray – to an extent. Whether it’s hanging out with nut-right bloggers at a Christmas party or visiting friendly wing-nuts on mainstream radio, he seems to enjoy the company of his ilk and his benefactors.
But, drag him out of the FS/WMC/right-wing cocoon and bring him out in the cold light of the real legal world, and Gableman looks like a red-faced fish out of water. When he was challenged by Butler during the forum, he would get red in the face, wear a strange, unnatural smile and chuckle to himself. It was a weird performance and you had to remind yourself that this is a guy who is pretending to be qualified for the one of the most prestigious state courts in the country. He was an embarrassment – not that he cared.
During the whole forum, Justice Butler tried to try to draw Gableman out on what exactly is wrong with the decisions of the Court that have provided false fodder for Gableman and his third-party handlers. For instance, in the Brown case (the sexual predator that didn’t get released, although the Farrow/Gableman fundraising letter said he did), how would Gableman have ruled differently and how would he have ignored state statutes to get there? In the Jensen case, would Gableman have joined the majority in making up new law out of whole cloth to get to the desired result? How and by what analysis, Butler wanted to know, would Gableman "legislate from the bench" to reach his desired result?
Gableman ignored all this, of course – the law and legal reasoning being, apparently, for suckers. He stuck to his ridiculously broad generalizations of himself ("judicial conservative", "apply the law, not make it", "honor rights of victims"; blah de blah blah) and Butler ("judicial activist", "defense attorney"). Not for him the flighty legal nuances that might lead to unpleasant results or make his brain hurt. Gableman seemed to come with the same tired script he saves for any Rotary club that would have him. Butler tried to pry something substantive from him, but it was like trying to get Charlie Sykes to say something that wasn’t written for him by the GOP. After an hour of banging his head against this wall, Butler said that either Gableman hasn’t done the analysis or he is deliberately misrepresenting the results. Here’s one vote for him never bothering with doing the analysis. Mike Gableman is not someone to let himself get confused by the facts. Or the law, for that matter.
The distinguished gathering of Milwaukee lawyers and judges in the room suffered the fool politely, but not necessarily gladly. Except for a couple of my prosecutor friends who do not necessarily appreciate Butler’s strong defense of the state and federal constitution against law enforcement overreach, this was a friendly room for him. Gableman’s rigid devotion to his vague talking-points stood in stark contrast to Butler’s easy humor and obvious intelligence.
Interestingly, the first question for Gableman was whether he talked to and was recruited by WMC before getting into the race. After dancing around for the allotted two minutes – you see, he has talked to many people across the state, etc. – he eventually admitted to discussions with WMC members "who have the same concerns as most people around the state". Well, no. He also pretty much confirmed the substance of One Wisconsin Now’s report on how he got appointed by McCallum from over 200 miles away after making a series of maximum contributions to his campaign. He certainly didn’t deny any of it.
In his closing, Justice Butler put it all out there. "There is only one candidate in this race that is not beholden to special interests," he said. "And that’s me." All Gableman could do after that is complain that Butler was "casting negative aspersions". One thing noticeably missing from Gableman’s response was a denial.