The state has been characterized as a place of extremes, from the home of “Fighting Bob” Robert M. La Follette, Sr.’s staunchly independent progressivism and of Socialist mayors in its largest city of Milwaukee to the Red-baiting anti-communism of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy.
It’s also been a state with a troubled racial past, See “Desegregation and Civil Rights,” Wisconsin Historical Society. And its distinguishable even today as the home of the nation’s most segregated city, Milwaukee (“Milwaukee area tops Brookings segregation study of census data”] and of continuing conversations on race, See “Our enduring racism is the problem, not a mall” – JSOnline.
The recurring “B” word.
And then there’s that unfortunate discourse-debasing recurring epithet that rhymes with ‘rich.’ Preceding the February 2011 teachers’ union protests vs. Governor Scott Walker and state GOP lawmakers, there was Ieshuh Griffin, a black woman and independent candidate for Milwaukee assembly who made headlines last summer by adopting what some sardonically called the campaign slogan of the year, “NOT the whiteman’s bitch.”
But despite her free speech assertions, the Government Accountability Board nixed Griffin’s slogan, calling it derogatory and barring its inclusion as part of her 5-word candidate’s statement on the voter ballot. See “Inflammatory Language Rejected From Wisc. Ballot.”
Berobed not bewigged Punch and Judy.
This gets me to the point, which is more “B” word blather – – – but from an unexpected quarter. If Punch and Judy were jurists, they might be sitting in Wisconsin. Reports emerged this week of yet another knockdown arguably belying the state’s adopted motto, “Forward.”
It occurred last February 2010 in what now seems to also be the capitol of percolating protesting pugilistics, Madison, Wisconsin.
And up until the recent shoving, shucking and jiving at the Capitol and I’m talking here about the legislators, I’d always thought that besides being the home of Badgers and Oscar Meyer Wiener, Madison was all about peace, love and happiness.
I was wrong. Dysfunctional hi-jinks occur just like in any locale. And what’s being reported now is all about he-said, she-said disharmony on the state’s highest court, although it’s not yet on par with state legislature redux.
In a story, Supreme Court tensions boil over, belatedly reported over the weekend, with suspicious timing ahead of the April 5, 2011 judicial elections, the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reports that Wisconsin State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser called the court’s chief justice, Shirley Abrahamson, “a bitch” and threatened “to destroy her.” There are even allegations of divisions along partisan political lines, perhaps, even on gender.
So much for comity, cordiality and conduct that reflects on the judiciary. According to the American Judicature Society’s Handbook for Judges (1961), “A judge should (1) hear courteously (2) answer wisely (3) consider soberly (4) decide impartially.”
The infighting and name-calling allegedly happened in closed chambers. But it’s coming out now through interviews and emails shared with the newspaper.
And there’s the unfortunate rub. As it turns out, the restriction governing relationships between judges pertains only to judges who criticize other judges publicly. When it’s out in the open, it “undermines public confidence in the judiciary.”
But if it’s behind closed doors and in private, the restriction “does not apply to exchanges between judges that occur in private.” See National Judicial College, ETHICS WORKSHOP, Part 2, Answers III and VI. So much for that oft-quoted definition of character as how you act when no one’s looking.
And as a final postscript to the reported lapses in judicial decorum is concern that the Wisconsin public union protests have also politicized the April 5th state supreme court elections. Calling it “the next battleground,” an overview of the issue,“Next union battleground in Wisconsin” is covered at PointofLaw.com.