The Wisconsin Supreme Court's conservative majority has rejected a petition from a group of retired judges seeking rules requiring judges and justices to recuse themselves from cases involving significant donors to their campaigns, the Wisconsin State Journalreports.
State Supreme Court candidates now can receive up to $20,000 from an individual donor and a court can't force judges to recuse themselves from cases in which they might have conflicts of interest.
Appeals, circuit and municipal court judges would have had to abide by similar recusal standards at lower dollar amounts.
"It seems like the five conservative justices on the state's high court overlooked the guarantee of due process under the Constitution, and instead they voted to protect the special interests' ability to game a "pay your dues" process". Abrahamson and Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Patrick Crooks objected, but Roggensack accepted the position.
The court also voted 5-2 against holding a hearing.
The court's ethics rules say that campaign cash can never be the sole basis for a judge's recusal. The judges who asked the court to revisit those rules this year said a lot had changed since then. The petition also asked that the proposed limits also apply if campaign contributions were made from another judicial campaign to influence the outcome of that judge's election, and also asked litigants disclose whether they donated at least $250 to the judge or justice hearing their case.
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They also said the Wisconsin Supreme Court's 2015 decision ending a John Doe probe of Gov. Scott Walker's campaign had opened the door to even more money flowing into Wisconsin judicial elections, potentially in advertising coordinated by judicial candidates. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, which supported the petition, independent groups that are unaffiliated with judges' campaigns spent a record $20 million nationwide in the 2015-16 election cycle.
"The people of Wisconsin have a First Amendment right to speak out in favor of the judges they support and in opposition to the judges they oppose without being penalized", Justice Bradley told the AP.
That argument carried the day during an hour-long discussion during an open conference of the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday.
"I find nothing in the Wisconsin constitution or the United States Constitution that says this court can not make reasonable rules for recusal", Abrahamson said. The rule proposed in the petition would have required judges to sit out cases involving donors who gave their campaigns above a certain amount.
Justices Daniel Kelly, Annette Ziegler and Michael Gableman joined Roggensack and Bradley in rejecting the petition.
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