March 23, 2009

Your Monday pundit round-up

Local medium wave radio shouter Charlie Sykes, who also operates a teevee show called "Sunday Insight" [sic] did a segment yesterday on the current State Supreme Court election.

Predictably, there was little insight to be gained, or at least not anything in the way of actual edification.

The hapless Sykes had roughly squat to contribute, aside from insisting on referring to former Justice Louis Butler as "Louie," as if he's his best buddy or something (in fact, Louis rhymes with Lewis).

Nor did another "distinguished panelist," the Journal-Sentinel's guide to good reading on the Web, Patrick McIlheran, who may or may not be feeling a modicum of shame over the unapologetically despicable treatment he afforded the Supreme Court election last year.

Yet another participant, the famed Walnuts-Begger of Waukesha, James T. "Hip Musings" Harris, dismissed Community Journal editor Mikel Holt's suggestion that the 2008 Michael Gableman campaign had appealed to racial prejudices among the electorate because — get a load of this — nobody knew Louis Butler was black.

Never mind that Holt was referring to Michael Gableman's notorious broadcast ad which included several shots of Butler, including those presented side by each with a black convicted child molester.

As a fellow cartoon character effectively put it, that Harris, whose continuing appearances on a programme alleged to provide "Insight" can only be attributed to inadvertent comic relief, he's about as sharp as a sack of ballpeen hammers.

Harris went on to say the real issue in the ongoing campaign should be "the lead paint case." Forgive me if I doubt whether Harris has even read it. Rather, somebody probably told him that the Wall Street Journal once ran an editorial saying mean things about Wisconsin and this troubled him and inspired a typically hip musing.

Finally, "pundit" Kenneth Lamke made reference to a lengthy piece that appeared in Madison's alternative weekly, the Isthmus, which Lamke described as "laudatory" of candidate Randy Koschnick.

Given Madison's perceived political culture, an alternative weekly in that town is deemed chortlingly by the Sykesians to be reflective of views slightly to the left of the International Workers' Daily, hence Lamke apparently finding Lueders's piece especially remarkable.

Except there are a number of disturbing misconceptions in Lueders's article, and consequently with Lamke's portrayal of it.

First of all, it contains a grotesque mangling of the central holdings of a State Supreme Court decision — which remains embarrassingly uncorrected nearly two weeks after its publication online.

Second, Mr. Lueders is not so much "lauding" Randy Koschnick as he is comparing him with Michael Gableman, who Lueders called, among other things, "a man without honor or shame." So Lueders would presumably prefer just about any candidate with a pulse — who knows, maybe even James T. Harris — to Gableman, which isn't exactly a "laudatory" endorsement of Randy Koschnick.

But the biggest problems with Lueders's piece reside with his subjective and untenable expectations of Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson. First, he's disappointed with what he personally believes are unsatisfactory replies to his questions, even though they are each perfectly appropriate and more than sufficiently responsive.

Then there is this, wherein Lueders grouses that the Chief Justice isn't political enough for his tastes:
Abrahamson, for her part, fervently rejects the suggestion that she approaches cases with any ideological predispositions: "I do what the facts and law require."

It's a good argument to make, but unconvincing.
Oh? Then if Lueders is unconvinced, he needs initially to prove up those so-called "ideological predispositions." But he doesn't even try, apart from pointing to "some" other people's reactions:
While a surprisingly large share of Supreme Court cases are decided unanimously, some do break down along obviously ideological lines. At least some of Abrahamson's supporters believe she'll apply the law in ways that favor injured people over corporations and the rights of the criminal defendants, some innocent, over the power of the state. That's why they support her.
What Lueders refers to as "ideology" is no such thing, but rather differing approaches to interpreting statutes, constitutions, case law, legal history, contemporary meanings of language, etc., etc.

It's easy to toss around quasi-philosophical characterizations, but without some detailed explanation, context, and support, they're effectively substanceless buzzwords.

This, however, is the real capper:
Abrahamson's reluctance to affirm and defend these leanings undercut her appeal. She's running from her own record of progressivism, which she should be trumpeting.
Talk about assuming your own defective conclusions.

And, well, too bad, because that ain't the way it works. And Abrahamson has continually been affirming and defending her approach to judging cases, for anyone who's been paying attention.

Furthermore there is the record itself. In each of Abrahamson's written opinions — in particular the so-called "controversial" ones that Judge Koschnick has been judiciously cherry-picking his way through — her approach is carefully and exhaustively explained.

But none of these "pundits" ever wants to talk about that; they prefer obsessing over the results, avoiding any meaningful debate about whether the reasoning and approach to that result was sound.

(And of course nobody has been obsessing over results with greater alacrity than Koschnick himself, which is unusual because as a self-described "judicial conservative," obsession with results is supposed to be the exclusive province of "liberal activists." To be sure, that's one of the signature political rationales behind portraying oneself as a "judicial conservative" in the first place: to attack "results-oriented" liberal judges. The irony is jarring.)

So what more does Mr. Lueders expect of Chief Justice Abrahamson? Because those detailed explications of her reasoning in each case are exactly what he's looking for, yet complains he doesn't find.

Moreover, why should any judge have an obligation to "defend" the perceptions of "some" other people? And why in the world would a judge be "trumpeting" any political ideology to begin with? That would be fundamentally inappropriate to the very function of judging.

Lueders may have interviewed Chief Justice Abrahamson for his article, but it's a shame he wasn't more thoughtfully considering her responses. On the other hand, Lueders appears pleased by Judge Koschnick's outright political pandering to conservative Republicans.

Perhaps that's how judges go about getting themselves elected in the State of Wisconsin, and some people might even find it attractive. But it certainly has nothing to do with the jobs they're seeking after.

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