In its analysis of an unprecedented change to how the chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court is selected, The Wall Street Journal ignored the significant financial contributions a right-wing group made in support of the move, which would strengthen conservative control of the court before it examines possible illegal campaign coordination between that same group and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R). Instead, the editorial board focused on the fact that the current chief justice has a lawyer who is on the board of directors of a judicial election reform group founded by George Soros.
On April 7, voters in Wisconsin approved a constitutional amendment that changed how the state supreme court picks its chief justice. For the past 126 years, the longest serving justice on the bench was automatically selected to act as chief justice. After passage of the new amendment, which was supported by Republican lawmakers in the state and boosted by hundreds of thousands of dollars in independent spending from conservative groups, the court itself will now elect which justice they want to serve as chief.
The conservative majority of the court is expected to replace current Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a liberal, with one of their own.
But in an April 9 editorial, the Journal failed to mention the conservative support for the amendment and the influence outside spending had on the outcome of the vote, and instead attacked Abrahamson for filing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new amendment. The editorial went on to add that her “lawyer is Robert Peck, a member of the board of directors of George Soros's Justice at Stake. The group wants to end state judicial elections and replace them with nominating commissions that allow state bar associations to hand-pick judges.”
The Journal's focus on Abrahamson's attenuated connection to Soros is in stark contrast with the complete lack of attention to the disproportionate right-wing spending behind the judicial amendment. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that “the state's largest business lobbying group,” Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, “gave $600,000 to a group running radio and TV ads backing the change on selecting the chief justice.” Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce's interest in the amendment is no surprise given they have previously spent over $6 million successfully influencing judicial elections to tilt the ideological balance of the state supreme court -- a court that is responsible for hearing challenges to Walker's right-wing policies.
In 2010 the court loosened the rules governing when a judge must recuse him or herself from a case -- as the Journal Sentinel reported at the time, the new rules “say campaign donations from people and groups with cases before the court are not, by themselves, enough to force judges off the case.” These new rules were written, in part, by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.
But the Journal, which has never met a repeal of campaign finance law it didn't like, ignores these issues to instead take a dig at reform efforts and claim that criticisms of judicial elections are overblown. Worse, the Journal omits any mention of the Walker campaign finance scandal Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce is enmeshed in, a case it's hand-picked justices are set to hear. As the Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch explained, “you can't make this stuff up”:
As CMD previously reported there was little grassroots demand or support for the change to Wisconsin's founding document. Those registering in favor included WMC and former Justice Jon Wilcox whose own campaign was fined $10,000 for exactly the type of illegal campaign coordination that is at issue in the [current Walker case]. His case established the precedent in Wisconsin that campaign coordination with outside groups is illegal.
WMC says the issue is democracy, but the claim is a howler given that the powerful corporate lobby shop has already spent millions to elect the court's right-wing majority and to ensure the GOP's complete control of the legislative and executive branches of government. They are now gunning for the independent Chief Justice as the court prepares to delve into allegations of illegal campaign coordination between Governor Scott Walker and -- you guessed it -- WMC and other allegedly “independent” campaign groups.
The $600,000 ad blitz will drown the $80,000 radio ad buy from the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee. Wisconsin voters who will see the “Vote Yes for Democracy” ads will have no knowledge of the corrupt machinations behind the scenes and the unprecedented case that is unwinding behind the closed doors of the state's highest court.
If the constitutional amendment passes on April 7, Wisconsin's respected Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson will be stripped of her title and her authority on April 8.
Talk about the nick of time. Arguments in the [current Walker case] were scheduled for April 17 and 20.