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Wisconsin’s Choke Hold on the National Spotlight


Just when everyone had thought the record had stopped playing, the ridiculous Wisconsin collective-bargaining controversy just keeps going on and on, “Hey Jude” style.

On Saturday, a report appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in which three anonymous sources claimed Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser put his hands on the neck of female colleague Ann Walsh Bradley during an argument in her chambers earlier this month. According to the original report, details about the alleged assault “remain sketchy,” which apparently wasn’t enough to keep the newspaper from running the story on its blog.

The story was shocking, in that most people that know Prosser to be a mild mannered, avuncular figure. (Upon hearing the story, a friend texted me to suggest he issue a press release with the title “Hero Supreme Court Justice Saves Colleague With Emergency Heimlich Maneuver.”) Prosser and Bradley have a history between them, as it is believed Bradley attempted to tank Prosser’s recent reelection campaign by leaking details of a private incident in which Prosser called colleague Shirley Abrahamson a “bitch.” (People question the appropriateness of that charge, not the veracity.)

The original report was written by Bill Lueders, my former editor at Madison’s Isthmus weekly newspaper, who now writes for the Center for Investigative Journalism. Yet when the Journal-Sentinel sent their own reporters out to follow up on Lueders’s sensational report, they found something completely different. Another source told the Journal Sentinel that it was in fact Bradley who charged at Prosser, with her fists up, causing him to put up his hands to defend himself. From the story:

At that point, Prosser said he’d lost all confidence in her leadership. Bradley then came across the room “with fists up,” the source said. Prosser put up his hands to push her back.

Bradley then said she had been choked, according to the source. Another justice — the source wouldn’t say who — responded, “You were not choked.”

Suddenly, the headline on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel webpage went from “Prosser grabbed fellow court justice’s neck during argument” to “Justices’ feud gets physical.” Quite a difference.

Of course, the original story made no mention that there might be any disagreement as to how this all went down. In subsequent statements, Lueders has said that he didn’t withhold any information that may have exonerated Prosser, but Lueders himself rewrote his own story after the new information came to light. (Ann Althouse has been doing yeoman’s work on the whole affair and has more details.)

As you may recall, it was Prosser’s reelection that allowed Governor Walker’s collective-bargaining bill to stand, as Prosser was the deciding vote when the new law came before the court. Prosser’s election became a referendum on Walker’s public-sector-union plan, and he barely won reelection after 7,500 votes were found to have been unreported to the media by the Waukesha County clerk.

Perhaps, in order to circumvent future violent incidents, there should be a push to go back to the original Wisconsin constitution and decide cases based on which justices can eat the most bratwurst.

— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.