You don't have to be a constitutional scholar to see how the Wisconsin Republican Party's current lawsuit against the Government Accountability Board is, at least in terms of its tactics and arguments, just Bush v. Gore dusted off and repurposed.
The lawsuit again demonstrates just how authoritarian the GOP has become. Because it's not enough that the GOP's opponents must be excluded from being heard in court. The court also must be Republican-friendly, and run without regard to fundamental norms of due process. Moreover, the issues must be narrowly and disingenuously crafted such that Republicans are to be construed as victims of their own authoritarianism. No one else need apply.
In this particular case, that means Republicans are in effect asking that taxpayers should front the full cost of any challenge they may make to the recall petition signatures, even though the recall law also allows Walker and other recall targets to raise unlimited campaign funds for that and other campaign purposes, which they have done into the millions of dollars.
Civil rights and entitlements, you see, are the special reserve of Republicans, who intensely dislike both when they apply to anyone else. Also, Republicans are not to be held to the very laws they themselves enact, at least when those laws result in unintended and unfavorable consequences. Thus, Republicans who were instrumental in creating the GAB now find it wanting.
Waukesha County Circuit Judge Mac Davis -- who is a former Republican legislator, and whose court can only hear this case because the current GOP-controlled Legislature passed a law saying so -- has ruled that organizers of the recall campaign against Gov. Scott Walker and other state Republican officeholders cannot challenge a lawsuit brought by state Republicans against the GAB. The recall groups sought to intervene as interested parties in the case.
Walker's campaign and the state GOP are asking Davis to order GAB to look for and eliminate duplicate signatures, clearly fake names and illegible addresses. GAB by law must decided whether there are enough valid signatures to force public officials into recall elections. The GAB says the law requires that recall targets themselves be responsible for identifying and challenging petition signatures. Walker would rather have the GAB do it, and send you the bill. Then, presumably, Walker and company will continue complaining about how recall elections are costing tax dollars. No spit, Sherlock!
Even funnier, although recalls are constitutionally protected activity in this state, the GOP lawsuit claims the GAB's petition review process violates Walker’s constitutional rights. In an interview with Talking Points Memo, a political web site, Jeremy Levinson, attorney for the recall committee, said, “it’s the first time I’m aware of a recall-related lawsuit where only the official who is being targeted for recall gets to be a party, and the folks who are working to recall that official are shut out of the process.”
Judge Davis said he was denying the recall groups request to intervene in the case because, well, the court just doesn't have time. “The need for speed in the case, with the signatures coming in by Jan. 17; the possibility for ‘chaos’ or a ‘free-for-all’ if the new parties were allowed into the case; and that the recall groups’ position will be adequately represented by the accountability board and its lawyers,” he said.
Yes, it's true: Judge Davis feels the need ... the need for speed. And that means redefiniing the adversarial process that defines America's courtrooms out the window because it's really just a "free for all."
Now, maybe Davis will end up acting like a real, thoughtful judge and throw out this obviously frivolous lawsuit, but his actions so far and his own strongly partisan GOP background don't make that seem likely.
And think some more about the judge's talk of needing to act quickly in order to avoid "chaos." When do you last hear that kind of language coming from a judge in a political civil suit? Why, in Bush v. Gore, of course, when the US Supreme Court said Bush's constitutional rights would be violated if the court actually took time to hear all the issues in the case. The court then summarily shut down the recount in Florida, after using up all the time left to elections officials that would have enabled them to finish their task within deadline.
In that case, too, Republicans went court-shopping, after they were unhappy about their prospects in the courts normally designated to handle such cases.
The next hearing in the Wisconsin case will be next Thursday. The recall campaigns have appealed Davis' denial of their request, but don't expect anything to change. This is Republican-only law, unlike American law, where constitutional guarantees of swift trials often no longer apply.