“What a mess this court has wrought!” Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson declared in the latest chapter in the state’s John Doe legal saga.
On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s majority contorted itself to find a new way to protect both Scott Walker and the Court’s biggest supporters–not to mention itself–following its decision in July rewriting the state’s limits on money in politics and ending the “John Doe” investigation into Walker’s campaign coordinating with dark money groups.
Wednesday’s ruling was supposed to be a straightforward decision on a motion to reconsider, in light of additional evidence that Walker and his allies had violated the campaign finance laws that the Court upheld in July.
The Court denied that motion, but then (in a lengthy unsigned opinion) went further, rewriting its July decision to fire the Republican Special Prosecutor who had led the investigation, Francis Schmitz, making it harder for him to challenge the justices’ conflicts-of-interest by appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Those conflicts arise from the fact that the same groups that coordinated with Walker’s campaign were among the majority’s biggest financial supporters, raising concerns under U.S. Supreme Court precedent about whether the justices should have heard the case at all.
“The miscalculation I made in this investigation was underestimating the power and influence special interest groups have in Wisconsin politics,” said Schmitz, a retired U.S. Army colonel and former counter-terrorism prosecutor.
The bipartisan John Doe probe has become a rallying cry for national organizations looking to overturn limits on money in politics, and for years has been subject to a legal and media assault, funded in part by the same groups that bankrolled the election of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority.
“My career in the military and as a federal prosecutor fighting violent criminals and terrorists did not fully prepare me for the tactics employed by these special interest groups,” Schmitz said in a statement.