Last Friday night, the NCAA Sweet 16 was in full swing. Those sitting at home were treated to a thrilling game, as Michigan State was able to beat Kansas, on their way eventually to the Final Four. If you were one of the three people watching the “We the People” Supreme Court candidates debate that night, my apologies. Not because you missed the game, but because you were probably chained up in someone’s basement and being forced to watch in order to extract information from you. If you called for “more waterboarding” in exchange for not having to watch Shirley Abrahamson debate Randy Koschnick, it would be entirely understood.
However, the debate did contain one interesting exchange. At one point, Koschnick called on Abrahamson to condemn the ads being run against him by the Greater Wisconsin Committee, a third-party entity that supports the Chief Justice. Koschnick urged the ads to be removed from the air, as they contained “false” and “inflammatory” information. (Ed. note – there is nothing in the ad that even approaches a reason for it to be taken down.)
Abrahamson bristled at the suggestion, citing Koschnick’s own words, when he said
“I think the answer to the problem of offensive or troublesome speech is more speech. If somebody has said something that is not true or inaccurate, the answer, rather than trying to suppress that speech, is to allow candidates and others to come out with a response and put the truth out there and let the public decide.”
Then, on her own, Abrahamson punctuated the quote with her own “more speech.” In her answer in response to the next question, the Chief Justice again hectored Koschnick for wanting to “stop speech.”
Of course, Abrahamson has long been a supporter of public financing of judicial elections – which, of course, is an attempt to “stop speech” by limiting the amount of money spent on campaigns for the Supreme Court. Naturally, Abrahamson didn’t feel strongly enough about the corrupting force of campaign contributions to limit them in her own campaign, as a Wispolitics.com report out yesterday showed she has outspent Koschnick at a 19-to-1 rate. In the most recent fundraising period, Abrahamson raised $290,000, in contrast with Koschnick’s $70,000. Suddenly, a Chief Justice who has been hostile to the corrupting force of money (and the speech that comes with it) has turned into Antonin Scalia when her own campaign needs the boost.
In the likely event she wins, this newly discovered defender of free speech rights might want to pick up a newspaper to observe the First Amendment vandalism being perpetrated by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, who has introduced a rule granting themselves the sole authority to regulate political speech during elections. As such, it will be an unelected board of bureaucrats – not even elected officials – who will be the “speech police” come campaign time, determing what can and can’t be said during the course of elections.
When I was a kid, one of the most popular t-shirts around declared the wearer of the shirt to be “FBI” – “Female Body Inspector.” The power the GAB has granted itself is akin to declaring yourself the state’s authority on the female form – and should be about as legally as binding. In fact, the GAB has inspired me, and today I declare myself the state’s sole arbiter of who can wear spandex in public. I’ll send my phony rule over to the the Legislature pronto.
It is almost certain that the GAB’s not-constitutional-by-a-longshot-free-speech-suppression-rule is going to end up in front of Abrahamson’s Court in the near future. Let’s just hope she’s “Campaign Shirley, Defender of Vigorous Public Debate,” and not “Too Many Conservatives Are Getting Elected, So We Need to Fund Campaigns With Taxpayer Dollars” Shirley.
Side note: During the Gableman-Ziegler races, you couldn’t open a state newspaper editorial page without reading about the need for reforming judicial campaign financing – now, with Abrahamson comfortably in the lead, you hear… nothing. Crickets.