Law & the Courts

Wisconsin’s Shame Endures

(Dreamstime image: Rorem)
The disgusting partisan witch hunt is over, but its victims’ pain lingers.

Yesterday, with minimal fanfare and attention, the U.S. Supreme Court finally ended one of the most shameful abuses of power in recent American history, rejecting the request of three Democratic prosecutors to restart their so-called “John Doe” investigations of conservative activity in the recall campaign against Wisconsin governor Scott Walker.

It is hard to do justice to the scale of this outrage. As I detailed at length in a story last year, Wisconsin prosecutors used an obscure provision of state law to launch a secret investigation into alleged illegal “coordination” between conservative organizations and the Walker campaign. In one day, a local judge named Barbara Kluka approved hundreds of pages of subpoenas, petitions, and search warrants.

Then prosecutors acted.

In a coordinated series of dawn raids, armed police officers raided the homes of conservative activists, barging into sleeping children’s rooms, confiscating cell phones and computers, carting off files, and ordering the targets of the raids to keep quiet. Despite the fact that the raids occurred in full view of the public, the victims were unable to defend themselves: They couldn’t tell friends or family, and they couldn’t talk to the media. A cloud of suspicion hovered over their lives.

The raids themselves were terrifying. In anonymous interviews, victim after victim described to me the pounding on the door, the rush of officers into their homes, the investigators strutting about, taking their personal belongings, and ordering them to be silent, or else.

At the same time, these partisan inquisitors were securing copies of the victims’ electronic records without their knowledge, gaining access to all of their personal and professional communications.

This was a witch hunt, designed to persecute American citizens for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech.

This was a witch hunt, designed to persecute American citizens for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech. One of the search warrants in the case empowered police to seize “any and all documents or records which show direct or indirect coordination or consultation with Friends of Scott Walker (hereafter FOSW) and/or the FOSW campaign or the 2011/2012 senate personal campaign committees for the recall elections.” The warrant also allowed investigators to take “all documents” relating to the “recall campaign for Wisconsin State senators,” to the “gubernatorial recall campaign from 2011 and 2012,” and to communications with a host of conservative organizations, including Americans for Prosperity, American Crossroads, and the Republican Governors Association.

Late last year, the Wisconsin Supreme Court finally halted the investigations, holding in no uncertain terms that prosecutors were attacking constitutionally protected speech:

The special prosecutor has disregarded the vital principle that in our nation and our state political speech is a fundamental right and is afforded the highest level of protection. The special prosecutor’s theories, rather than “assur[ing] [the] unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people” . . . instead would assure that such political speech will be investigated with paramilitary-style home invasions conducted in the pre-dawn hours and then prosecuted and punished.

The prosecutors were undeterred by this rebuke. They appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court, and when SCOTUS refused to hear the case, they issued an unapologetically defiant statement, stating that they were “proud to have taken this fight as far as the law would allow” and looked “forward to the day when Wisconsin adopts a more enlightened view of the need for transparency in campaign finance.” The irony of using secret criminal investigations to fight for “transparency” apparently escaped these tinpot fascists.

Rogue prosecutors, including Milwaukee district attorney John Chisholm, should be held accountable for the John Doe investigations.

While conservative and local media have covered the John Doe investigations, the national media, with the exception of the Wall Street Journal, have been largely indifferent. Yet can you imagine the outcry if a southern state’s election commission sent cops across five counties to execute predawn raids against members of the NAACP, or if police officers from an energy-producing state descended on the homes of Sierra Club members? Obama’s Department of Justice would hand down indictments, and Hollywood would produce multiple treatments of the story depicting brave activists fighting American tyranny. I wonder why that hasn’t happened here.

Rogue prosecutors, including Milwaukee district attorney John Chisholm, should be held accountable for the John Doe investigations, but the failure goes beyond them. The initial John Doe judge should have rejected the initial search warrants, police should have refused to launch intimidating raids, and investigators who taunted vulnerable and terrified families should be ashamed of themselves.

Electorally and politically secure in deep-blue urban strongholds, some progressive prosecutors are choosing to criminalize political differences. Chisholm’s witch-hunt in Wisconsin has echoes of prosecutors’ attacks in Austin, Texas, on Tom DeLay, Rick Perry (who was actually prosecuted for a veto), and whistleblowing University of Texas regent Wallace Hall. Not to be outdone, blue-state attorneys general have launched fraud investigations into scientific questions about “climate change,” while simultaneously resisting congressional subpoenas inquiring about their own anti-constitutional activities.

The message is clear. To many progressives, transparency is my obligation, not theirs. Free speech is their right, not mine. Social justice must be achieved by any means necessary, and if innocent parents and children suffer for it, well then to them that’s just a bonus. Conservatives, after all, get what they deserve.

— David French is an attorney, and a staff writer at National Review.

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