Politics & Policy

Politicized Prosecution Run Amok in Wisconsin

(Mikhail Olykainen/Dreamstime)

The knock on the door in the dead of night is the stuff of Darkness at Noon, and of the state of Wisconsin.

To the question of whether armed police can storm your house and take away your personal effects and tell you to shut up about it, based simply on your political advocacy, Wisconsin answered for years, “Why, yes, they can — now please, shut up about it.”

The so-called John Doe investigations into Governor Scott Walker and conservative groups in Wisconsin have been an ongoing travesty that — now that Walker is entering the presidential stage — should be considered a national disgrace. Walker’s opponents weaponized campaign-finance law, literally.

RELATED: Wisconsin’s Shame: ‘I Thought It Was a Home Invasion’

Our own David French has talked to families targeted in the John Doe raids for the first time, and their stories are harrowing. Shouting officers at the front door in pre-dawn raids, at least once with a battering ram. Armed police rifling through and carting off their belongings, down to and including a daughter’s computer. And warnings to stay silent.

The targets were told not to tell their lawyers, or their friends, or their neighbors. When armed cops storm the house next door, people often wonder why, but the targets were forbidden from discussing what happened. As French points out, this wasn’t the right to remain silent and avoid self-incrimination, but an order to remain silent and not to make any professions of innocence. They had a keener sense of due process in Salem, Massachusetts.

RELATED: Time to Tame Prosecutors Gone Wild

The investigators were, among other things, fishing for campaign-finance violations, on dubious grounds. So, for exercising their First Amendment rights, some targets were denied their First Amendment rights. This is the Bill of Rights, via Kafka and Inspector Javert.

The investigations have been such a long-running farce that there is John Doe I and II. As Scott Walker’s first campaign for governor got underway in 2010, the Milwaukee district attorney, John Chisholm, opened the initial John Doe investigation under a proviso of the law that allows officials to keep their targets secret and to compel them to hush up.

RELATED: American Desperately Needs to Fix It’s Overcriminalization Problem

A partisan Democrat whose wife was a shop steward for a teachers union, Chisholm investigated everything possible related to Walker for a couple of years, without really laying a glove on him. It was in the run-up to Walker’s re-election campaign that, with the help of a compliant judge, John Doe entered its next phase of harassment of conservative groups.

Investigators swept up personal e-mails, and issued wide-ranging subpoenas, including information on donors. The Wisconsin Club for Growth describes in court filings how its activities were hindered, as people began refusing meetings, donors got nervous, and one of its key officials, Eric O’Keefe, wasn’t allowed to explain the nature of the investigation. O’Keefe, who has been courageous in resisting the investigations, has said, “The process is the punishment.”

#related#And the offense was backing the wrong side in a highly contentious political dispute. It’s one thing for kids with bongo drums to register their opposition to Scott Walker; it’s another for armed agents of the state, operating with the force of law, to be used as essentially a political cudgel.

The John Doe investigation has bogged down under the weight of its own ludicrous unfairness, and various court challenges. The Wisconsin Supreme Court could soon rule to halt the investigations altogether, and the United States Supreme Court is set to decide whether it will consider a federal lawsuit brought by Eric O’Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth.

Wisconsin legislators are considering scaling back the law enabling John Doe investigations to prevent future abuses. The John Doe process might make sense for unraveling a dangerous criminal syndicate; it isn’t appropriate in a tenuous campaign-finance investigation, let alone as a tool of intimidation against people on the wrong side of a political argument.

The politicized knock on the door in the night isn’t right for Wisconsin, or anywhere else in the United States of America.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. © 2015 King Features Syndicate

Rich Lowry — Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

Most Popular

Culture

Let Alfie Evans Go to Rome

Alfie Evans, 23 months old, is hospitalized with a rare neurodegenerative disorder. Against his parents’ wishes, his doctors at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool removed him from life support on Monday evening, maintaining that further treatment would be futile. Bambino Gesù Pediatric Hospital in Rome has ... Read More
Education

Is Journalism School Worth It?

Clarence Darrow dropped out of law school after just a year, figuring that he would learn what he needed to know about legal practice faster if he were actually doing it than sitting in classrooms. (Today, that wouldn't be possible, thanks to licensing requirements.) The same thing is true in other fields -- ... Read More
Culture

Wednesday Links

Today is ANZAC Day, the anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli: Here's some history, a documentary, and a Lego re-enactment. How DNA Can Lead to Wrongful Convictions: Labs today can identify people with DNA from just a handful of cells, but a handful of cells can easily migrate. The 19th-century art of ... Read More
World

Microscopic Dots. Let’s Look at Them.

Stuart E. Eizenstat has written a big book on the Carter presidency. (Eizenstat was Carter’s chief domestic-policy adviser. He also had a substantial hand in foreign affairs.) I have reviewed the book for the forthcoming NR. Eizenstat tells the story of a meeting between President Carter and Andrei Gromyko, the ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Alfie and Haleigh and Charlie and Jahi

When British hospital officials tried to pull the plug on 23-month-old toddler Alfie Evans on Monday night in arrogant defiance of his parents' wishes, many Americans took to Twitter to count their blessings that they live in a country that would not allow such tyranny. "Stories like Alfie Evans make me ... Read More