Wisconsin High Court Clash Gets Physical

Wisconsin High Court Clash Gets Physical

 

Tensions within the Wisconsin Supreme Court may have gotten even more heated during last month's union reform case than the discordant decision upholding the law curbing the power of public employee unions suggested. According to unnamed sources, the day before that ruling was issued, Justice David Prosser allegedly grabbed fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley around the neck in an argument in her chambers. 
 
The incident was first disclosed in a joint report by Wisconsin Public Radio and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The report cited anonymous sources who said an argument over the case culminated in a physical altercation between Prosser and Bradley in the presence of other justices. 
 
Prosser initially declined to comment but later issued a statement indicating: "Once there's a proper review of the matter and the facts surrounding it are made clear, the anonymous claims made to the media will be proven false. Until then, I will refrain from further public comment." 
 
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also quoted a source who gave a very different account of the incident, stating that Prosser had made incidental contact with Bradley's neck when he'd raised his hands to protect himself after she'd charged toward him "with fists up." But the newspaper also reported that Justice Bradley affirmed the initial version of events. 
 
"The facts are that I was demanding that he get out of my office and he put his hands around my neck in anger in a chokehold," Bradley told the newspaper. 
 
She also disputed the claim that the physical contact had been incidental. 
 
"You can try to spin those facts and try to make it sound like I ran up to him and threw my neck into his hands, but that's only spin," she said. 
 
Former Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox said tensions have always run high on the court, where long hours are spent debating polarizing issues. But conflict between the court's liberal and conservative factions has intensified since 2007, when special interest groups began pouring millions of dollars into judicial races. 
 
The court's 4-3 ruling in the union reform case was notably contentious. In her dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson chided the majority for a decision that was "disingenuous, based on disinformation," "lacking a reasoned, transparent analysis" and laden with "numerous errors of law and fact." She also sharply criticized Prosser's separate concurring opinion, calling it "long on rhetoric and long on storytelling that appears to have a partisan slant." 
 
Months earlier, the Journal Sentinel reported that during a case last year, Justice Prosser had called Justice Abrahamson a "total ***" and threatened to "destroy" her. Prosser had confirmed making those remarks, saying he'd "probably overreacted" but also accusing Justices Abrahamson and Bradley of being "masters at deliberately goading people into perhaps incautious statements." 
 
"In a very short period of time, we have gone from having a Supreme Court that was a national model to a Supreme Court that is really fodder for late-night comics," said Howard Schweber, a political science and law professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "We no longer view the court as being somehow above or outside the day-to-day politics. It's become just another partisan office." (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, ASSOCIATED PRESS, POST-CRESCENT [APPLETON]) 
 
NJ ENACTS UNION-BUSTING BILL: Democrats control both houses of New Jersey's Legislature, and union membership in the state is among the highest in the nation. But that didn't stop Garden State lawmakers from approving a broad rollback of benefits and power for government workers and retirees last month. 
 
Among other things, the legislation will require government workers to contribute more to their health insurance and pensions, raise the retirement age from 62 to 65, and curb public employee unions' collective bargaining rights. 
 
While a major setback for the unions, it was a big victory for Gov. Chris Christie (R), who signed the measure (SB 2937) on July 28. 
 
"We are putting the people first and daring to touch the third rail of politics in order to bring reform to an unsustainable system," the governor said in a statement. 
 
Christie was able to pull off the feat due primarily to division within the Democratic caucus. 
 
"This bill is not about savings; it is about breaking the backs of the hard-working men and women of this state," Middlesex County Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr (D) said of the union reform measure. "I challenge everyone in this chamber today: how many have even read the full 124 pages of union-busting activities?" 
 
But Assemblyman Angel Fuentes (D) of Camden said, "These reforms are unquestionably bitter pills for us to swallow, but they are reasonable and they are necessary," adding, "We now have towns across this state that are struggling to afford health benefits for their employees. This has resulted in cities laying off workers." 
 
Christie was able to exploit those differences through his alliances with the party's more conservative leaders and legislators, whom union leaders have taken to calling "Christie Democrats." 
 
Those "Christie Democrats" could find themselves targeted in upcoming legislative elections. Protestors crowded the New Jersey State House prior to the Assembly vote on the bill last month chanting "We'll remember in November!" (NEW YORK TIMES) 
 
POLITICS IN BRIEF: Three FLORIDA unions - the Florida Education Association, the Police Benevolent Association and the SEIU Florida Public Service Union - have filed suit to block Gov. Rick Scott (R) and other trustees of the state retirement system from cutting 3 percent of state workers' salaries to replace over $1 billion of the state's obligation to the pension fund. They allege state law specifies that public workers do not have to contribute part of their salaries to the state retirement system unless they agree to that change in their negotiated contracts (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES). • The U.S. Supreme Court struck down an ARIZONA law allowing political candidates to receive extra public funds to match spending by privately financed opponents. The 5-4 decision will also impact 10 other states with matching-fund provisions (ARIZONA REPUBLIC [TUCSON). • Mitt Romney's presidential campaign sadvisers are pushing to get UTAH's Republican primary moved up from late June to earlier in the spring in the hope of having a bigger impact on the nomination process (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE). • According to analysis by the New Hampshire Sunday News, two-thirds of NEW HAMPSHIRE's legislators have at least a bachelor's degree, as opposed to the 53 percent reported last month by the Chronicle of Higher Education. (See STATEHOUSE EDUCATIONAL DIVIDE in the June 20 issue of SNCJ.) While that moves the state out of the bottom five percent of the Chronicle's education ranking, it still leaves it in the bottom 10 (NEW HAMPSHIRE SUNDAY NEWS).

---Compiled ny Korey Clark

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