The Wisconsin Supreme Court both frustrated and encouraged me last Friday. In two opinions the high court released we are reminded that judicial opinions have real impact on real people.
Let’s start with the positive. Simply put, on a 4-3 vote, the court ruled that ballot drop boxes are illegal in Wisconsin. Conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote the majority opinion, stating “We hold the documents are invalid because ballot drop boxes are illegal under Wisconsin statutes. An absentee ballot must be returned by mail or the voter must personally deliver it to the municipal clerk at the clerk's office or a designated alternate site.”
To clarify the documents referenced were documents created by employees of the Wisconsin Elections Commission. As Justice Bradley writes, “These documents authorize municipal clerks and local election officials to establish ballot drop boxes.”
Justice Bradley makes it very clear that Wisconsin Elections Commission broke the law when they issued these documents. She says, “WEC's staff may have been trying to make voting as easy as possible during the pandemic, but whatever their motivations, WEC must follow Wisconsin statutes. Good intentions never override the law.”
What this means for the 2022 fall elections is clear: no ballot drop boxes that do not actually comply with the law will allowed. Now, this assumes that the WEC will obey the court’s ruling; they’ve been known to not follow a court directive before.
Moving on to the court frustrating me. The court had a perfect opportunity to tell the Madison Metropolitan School District that its dastardly policy that purposefully keeps parents in the dark as to how their children are presenting at school regarding their gender is patently unconstitutional. Instead, because Justice Brian Hagedorn again joined with the three liberal justices, the court ruled on the question of whether or not the parents who brought the case could remain anonymous. And on a 4-3 vote, the court said, no, the parents can’t remain anonymous; the parents’ identities must be disclosed to the defendants and their attorneys.
I was in the court room for oral arguments on this case. The disclosure of the parents’ identities was debated at length. The defendants alleged that none of the individuals involved with their clients would leak the names and that even if the names were leaked, nothing bad would happen to the parents.
During argument, Justice Rebecca Bradley responded to those assertions, reminding everyone that the US Supreme Court had just had a significant leak and that no one needed to look further than one of the organizations right in Madison that had filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the parents, to know bad things can happen to individuals or organizations who openly hold views that are anathema to some segments of the culture. Of course, Justice Bradley was referring to us and the attack on our office on Mother’s Day. Justice Roggensack, writing the dissent for the minority, referenced us and the attack as well, as proof that retribution is not a figment of our imagination. It’s very real.
On the merits of the case, which Is the unconstitutional policy itself, the majority took a complete pass, sending the case back to the trial court, which means the case will be further dragged out—and that assumes the plaintiff parents are willing to be disclosed.
These two opinions impact real people—in the drop box case, essentially all Wisconsin voters are affected. In the Madison School District case, certainly the plaintiffs are most directly impacted, but the policy impacts thousands of other children and their families who are in the Madison schools.
Who sits on our courts matters; their opinions matter. It’s not too early to be thinking about next spring when we have an open seat on the state supreme court with Justice Roggensack retiring. Will we put someone on the court who will be a reliable constitutionalist, or will we put someone there who will put his or her personal and political agendas ahead of the rule of law?
This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”
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