December 20, 2007

Supreme Court race is warming up

The other day I mentioned a complaint that One Wisconsin Now lodged with a campaign watchdog group (WJCIC) over some election literature put out by Michael Gableman, the Burnett County Circuit Court judge who's challenging incumbent Louis Butler's seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

OWN raised a question of whether Gableman had made any “pledges, promises, or commitments” in an attachment to a letter that briefed a handful of Butler's opinions and stressed the “stark contrast” in which Gableman comparatively stands. Aspirants to the bench may not make such promises connected to certain “cases or controversies” that might come before the court.

OWN's concern arose because Butler's opinions are necessarily quite specific with respect to questions of law and, essentially, the narrower the question, the closer Gableman comes to making a “promise” by presenting himself in “stark contrast” to Butler's disposition. It's a tricky business made trickier by Gableman's own (no pun intended) right to free speech.

While the WJCIC decided not to take formal action, which according to its regulations and procedures includes investigations and formal notification of the parties involved, it issued a statement in response to OWN's complaint that primarily consisted of a reiteration of the intent behind the relevant sections of the Wisconsin Code of Judicial Conduct. End of story? Not quite.

The Gableman campaign responded with its own (pun intended) press release, which contained what turns out to be the unfortunate remark, “Louis Butler and his allies cannot hide the fact that he consistently sides with criminals over law enforcement.”

The implication being, it seems to me, that Gableman's "stark contrast" means consistently siding with the government in criminal cases. Hence the question of whether such pronouncements are edging toward "pledge, promise, or commitment" territory.

Now it seems that Tom Basting, the President of the State Bar and chair of the WJCIC, is not amused. And he directed a letter today to Gableman himself, saying so.

In it, Basting upbraids Gableman's lieutenant Darrin Schmitz for the remark and expresses dismay at the Gableman campaign's broad mischaracterization of the original WJCIC reply: “This is precisely the kind of campaign rhetoric that I and other members of WJCIC hoped we would not hear or read.”

I expect there is — and will be — much consternation in the one camp, and considerable chuckling in the other. Perhaps now is the time for the third candidate, Charlie Schutze, to leap into the fray. Virtually nothing has been heard from him, apart from a gratuitious "also running" in the occasional press report.

eta: And a bit warmer yet.

1 comment:

capper said...

Charlie Schutze? Didn't he draw Peanuts and Snoopy?