The Madison State Urinal, I mean Journal, is reporting that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has summarily rejected a series of so-called “civility proposals” disingenuously proposed by Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson in what can only be described generously as a patently dishonest public relations stunt. Abrahamson was joined by only one other justice in votes on any of her proposals.
Abrahamson proposed opening court deliberations to the public or recording deliberations and making them publicly available after an opinion is issued. For those not familiar with the appellate judicial process, deliberations refers to the formal discussion of a case by members of the court, typically following oral arguments. During deliberations, the members of the court discuss a case and the correct outcome.
These discussions can include very frank, and sometimes very harsh, assessments of the parties and attorneys before the court. In some cases, making those discussions could be very embarrassing or even harmful to those before the court. Such statements should not be made public.
Members of the court may also express questions or concerns about aspects of a case that are not later reflected in the court’s opinion, or in any accompanying opinions (e.g., dissents or concurrences). Those statements could easily be taken out of context or distorted to attack court members. Even if quoted fairly, a statement that seemingly contradicts an opinion written or joined by the judge may be used to create superficial inconsistencies. The court needs to be able to meet and discuss cases in a frank and honest way without fear of repercussions. A judge’s written opinions and statements or questions during oral arguments provide more than a sufficient public record of a judge’s conduct.
Not surprisingly, the Journal article fails to point out the obvious fact that Abrahamson made her proposals with absolute certainty that they would not be approved. In fact, I find it impossible to believe that she or her co-conspirator, temperamental liberal Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, ever intended or desired that her proposals pass. It was political drama of the lowest order intended purely to deceive and deflect public attention away from Abrahamson’s long history of fostering incivility and contention in the court she leads. Abrahamson’s critics include several former members of the court including Conservatives and Liberals, Republicans and Democrats. Like the Unionistas who threw a collective temper tantrum when the lost control of legislature and governor’s office, Abrahamson and her fellow liberals on the Wisconsin Supreme Court have become increasingly surly, temperamental, mean-spirited, and dishonest in their attempts to undermine the majority and reassert liberal control of the court.