The following is part of a remarkable exchange that took place last Wednesday at the Wisconsin Supreme Court, during an open hearing on various proposed amendments to the rules of judicial conduct, between Michael Gableman and Virginia M. Bartelt, the attorney for a petitioner, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin:
Michael Gableman: Counsel, we're discussing funding here and impartiality. Who funds the League of Women Voters?
Virginia Bartelt: It comes from a variety of sources. Certainly the league itself is an interest group.
Gableman: Does uh, do those sources include the Open Society Institute?
Bartelt: I'm sorry that I don't know the answer to that.
Gableman: If I indicated that the League of Women Voters' official website listed the Open Society Institute as one of its donors, would you have any reason to doubt that?
Bartelt: I would have no reason to doubt it.
Gableman: Do you know what the Open Society Institute is?
Bartelt: I don't know, your honor, but the executive director of the league is [telling me] that that is not a member of the Wisconsin association.
Gableman: Okay. So, but the Open Society Institute is one of the donors to the league.
Bartelt: It's possible. Nationally.
Gableman: And that's a George Soros-funded entity. Do you know that?
Bartelt: I don't know that.
Gableman: Okay, so you wouldn't know, for instance, how much George Soros has contributed to the League of Women Voters in the last, say, five years.
Bartelt: I would not, your honor.
Gableman: Or the last year.
Gableman: Could you find that out.
Bartelt: I imagine that I could.
Gableman: Would you.
Gableman: Okay. What kind of time frame do you think.
Bartelt: Within five days.
Gableman: Okay. Thank you.
Gableman's objective here is blindingly obvious: To discredit the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin by linking it to one of the paranoid right-wing's favorite boogeymen. He's playing at cheap politics, this time directly from the bench of the Supreme Court.
Except the LWVW isn't a State Supreme Court; it's an organization of people concerned about the public's perception of the court's impartiality. That is, the LWVW has no such obligation of its own to impartiality even remotely analogous to that of the court's.
And theirs is a legitimate concern: A poll showed that nearly 80% of Wisconsinites believe the impartiality of their State courts is compromised by campaign contributions, those same Wisconsinites whose lives are affected by those courts' decisions.
When Gableman launches his inquisition against the LWVW, he's implicitly placing the court on equal terms with a political organization. Look again to his introductory proposition: "We're discussing funding [of judicial candidates] here and [public perceptions of] impartiality [on the courts]."
And then he turns those questions toward the LWVW. It's almost as if he's acknowledging that the Supreme Court is simply another political interest outfit, the same as the LWVW or Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (of whose counsel Gableman, conspicuously, never demanded any similar disclosure of specific contributors).
At — of all possible venues — a public inquiry into judicial bias.
In making a presentation to the court, the LWVW deserves a fair hearing on the merits of its petition and not a transparently political ad hominem attack from an obvious right-wing ideologue.
Whatever his politics, and to whatever organizations he chooses to distribute his money (a.k.a. speech), George Soros is an American citizen, with just as much right as anybody to support whichever causes he cares to, which is supposedly a right that Gableman and his fellow "traditionalists" on the Supreme Court support unreservedly.
In light of the fact that Gableman himself benefited from nearly $2M worth of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce largesse and tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions received from out-of-State donors, the irony of Gableman's political faux-trage and deliberately selective line of interrogation verges on the hypocritical.
The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin should reconsider and decline to give Gableman the documentation he's demanded, at least until he demands the same from all of the other petitioners.