03.23.2011 1

Political Play in Wisconsin’s Judicial System

The battles aren’t over in Wisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker’s legislation to end collective bargaining rights for state public union employees has passed both the State House and Senate, but now it must pass another hurdle—the judiciary.

But when faced with a possible biased judiciary system, things can get a bit complicated.

Most recently a Wisconsin county circuit court judge temporarily blocked Gov. Walker’s law from taking effect. Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi granted the restraining order, saying that “time was needed to review the manner in which the law was passed. ‘It’s not a minor detail … the open meetings law exists to ensure open government in controversial matters,’ she said.”

But she left out a minor (major) detail.

Big Government reports, “Her son is a political operative who also happens to be a former lead field manager with the AFL-CIO and data manager for the SEIU State Council. Both the SEIU and the AFL-CIO have members who are public-sector employees in Wisconsin. In fact, as a federation, the AFL-CIO can boast of several member-unions that represent public-sector employees. Maryann Sumi is hardly an unbiased judge in the matter.”

It appears the public union employees in Wisconsin have a new ally.

The Wisconsin AFL-CIO was especially supportive of the judge’s ruling. “ ‘Judge Sumi confirmed today what we knew all along – that the bill stripping hundreds of thousands of hard working Wisconsinites of their voice on the job was rammed through illegally in the dark of the night,’ said Phil Neuenfeldt, President of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO.”

The AFL-CIO is not wasting anytime mobilizing its forces to pave the way for another possible judge, one who could potentially weigh in on Gov. Walker’s law should it makes it way to the highest court in Wisconsin.

On April 5, citizens will be electing a justice to the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. The incumbent, David Prosser Jr., is being challenged by JoAnne Kloppenburg. Prosser previously served as a Republican and the state’s assembly speaker. According to Fox News, he ran a campaign ad before Gov. Walker “jumped into the deep end of the controversy pool, suggesting he would complement Walker if re-elected to the court.”

However, his opponent, Kloppenburg, has already been heavily endorsed by the Wisconsin AFL-CIO. “ ‘JoAnne Kloppenburg is the best candidate to represent Wisconsin’s working families,’ said Phil Neuenfeldt, President of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO. ‘She has the judicial demeanor, temperament, independence and integrity to ensure that the law is applied fairly to all Wisconsinites. We believe she will be an ethical and impartial judge bringing needed balance to our courts.’ ”

Kloppenburg currently serves as assistant attorney general at the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Having never been a judge, her experience is limited and having no voting record, makes it difficult to know where she stands on the issues. But, with an endorsement from AFL-CIO, some light is shed on that subject.

“The role of a judge is not advocacy,” says Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG). “When a person is appointed as a judge at a county level, state or federal level, the public expects them to rule as an outside party, unbiased and not conflicted.”

This election is shaping up to be less about judicial philosophy and more about the power public employee unions are exercising to bend Wisconsin’s political system to their agenda. Will it work? The people of Wisconsin and the nation will find out in a couple of weeks.

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