Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Death of Democracy -- and the Wisconsin Court

This week brought historically bad legal news, both nationally and locally.

First, the political system of the United States was, for all practical purposes, destroyed by the right-wing of the U.S. Supreme Court. The usual narrow majority of the Roberts Court summarily steamrolled the original intent of the founders (for instance: corporations are not “persons”. Duh.) and a hundred years of stare decisis in deciding that national and international corporations can buy-and-sell elections without restriction.

The radical Citizens United decision is a landmark accomplishment in the decades-long Federalist Society campaign to take over the federal judiciary in the service of their corporate and (by default) Republican political masters. By the time the relatively young, healthy ideologues of the Bush Four – initiated by Bush Senior with Scalia and Thomas; completed by Bush Junior (thanks, Ralph “It Doesn’t Matter Who Wins” Nader, not to mention the then-existing Bush v. Gore Court) with Roberts and Alito, with the help of the gullible Anthony Kennedy (“I get to write the opinion? OK.”) – are done with the nation’s laws, the Constitution will be a dead-letter; its words twisted into unrecognizable knots by those who care not about the intent of the founders or sound reasoning of the 100+ justices that came before them, but of the selfish interests of the greedy bastards who put them in place. Unapologetically, the blind zealots of the Roberts Court continue to provide their handlers with the kind of power they always wanted but couldn’t get elected to do – to shape the nation in their own image, with liberty and justice for them, and for you only if you can afford the buy-in.

In the current economic environment, I suspect most corporations won’t be spending much just because they like a candidate’s good looks. Corporate political spending (before yesterday, using legal fictions in the former law) has always been about each company’s parochial interests – i.e.: they are for anything that gets them more money and against anything that requires them to spend it. As it happens, the companies with the most to lose or gain by the agenda of the Democrats elected to fix a raft of long-neglected issues – the health insurance industry, the polluters and the banks – have the most disposable income (read: obscene profits) to wield the sledgehammer just provided by the radical Supremes to defeat progress of any sort at any time.

Cynically exploiting the soft underbelly of an electorate too distracted by their own Republican-induced misery and too stupid to know who the enemy is, we can expect all manner of smarmy ads in the next election cycle, promoting Republicans (who, after all, not only can, but expect to be bought) and against Democrats (who can’t). In fact, many of those in the politics business expect that messages from the actual candidates for office are the last thing you are going to hear or see, as media buys, especially in small markets with one or two TV stations, become saturated with corporate messages promoting the Republicans who, as only they can, have agreed to carry their water once they get to Washington...

...or, as we now know, Madison. It was a strange but revealing confluence of events that, on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that elections can be bought – unfettered by annoying laws – by corporations, our own elected Wisconsin Supreme Court announced that, once bought, they need not recuse. The right-wing majority of the state Supremes, decided this week that, if quaint, archaic rules about silly things like conflicts of interest (real and the appearance thereof) are getting in the way of their increasingly conflicted existence, they would just change the rules.

The declaration that such obvious conflicts of interests such as Annette Ziegler ruling on anything having to do with the WMC -- who recruited and promoted her (and Michael Gableman) to the tune of millions of dollars -- could be ignored flies in the face of everything we have come to know and love about the historical impartiality of the ultimate court in the state. As a close friend who knows quite a bit about the current Court told me a while ago, anyone on the right (as in correct) side of things who doesn't like the result below and takes a petition for review up to this Supreme Court hoping to get a better result is crazy.

Never before in this state have we had a Court with a majority that is more conflicted, more politically driven and less willing to give every side a fair hearing. I guess, by confirming their purchased bias and promising to go ahead and rule on cases involving their generous benefactors, they get points for honesty. You know what you are going to get with this Supreme Court before you get there. And that is very, very sad.

With the de facto leader of the Court’s right wing, David Prosser, up for reelection in 2011, we’ll get the first application of Citizens United to a judicial race in Wisconsin. No longer will the dark side of Wisconsin’s business community have to hide behind legal straw-men like the WMC PAC. The poison lead paint industry can now come right out and proudly trumpet Justice Prosser’s accomplishments. Other polluters like the asbestos industry can get in the act and try to make their lives a little less accountable. Here come the doctors, whining about medical malpractice claims when they screw up. My guess is that lots of corporations will get into the act, buying the influence that the Court now gleefully encourages, much less allows.

And, as an added bonus, the U.S. Supremes just showed the state Court how easy it is to brush aside all those conflicting and annoying precedents by all those former justices who couldn’t possibly be as smart as they are. Let’s get those lead paint and the medical malpractice cases back up here. Obviously, just like namby-pamby concerns about conflicts of interest, stare decisis is for wimps.