Scott Walker and Wisconsin GOP Continue Lockdown in Contempt of Court; Issue Unconstitutional 'Arrest Warrants' for 14 Democratic Lawmakers
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The Wisconsin State Capitol has erupted in a torrent of lawlessness this week that schoolchildren will be reading about for years. No, I don't mean rowdy protests resulting in mass arrests. Even though some 300,000 people have visited the capitol in the last two weeks, the crowds have been peaceful and fun; no arrests have been reported. I mean the convulsion of lawlessness that has seized Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the Republican leadership -- a track record that would make Richard Nixon proud.
Republic Senate Passes Unconstitutional Measures to Rein In Wisconsin 14
As the Wisconsin Capitol remained in almost complete lockdown Thursday in violation of a standing court order, senate Republican leadership turned up the heat on the missing 14 Democratic legislators with an unprecedented series of new rules, some of which were quickly assessed by lawyers as flatly unconstitutional. On Thursday, 19 Republican senators passed a resolution authorizing the missing Senate Democrats to be taken into custody by any Wisconsin law enforcement officer for "contempt of the Senate." Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the actions were justified because the 14 "have pushed us to the edge of a constitutional crisis."
The latest legal ploy comes in the context of news reports that the Wisconsin 14, who left the state to delay Governor Walker's bill to eviscerate 50 years of collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin public employees, were preparing to come back under their own steam to fight the battle of the budget. One senate staffer explained that it would be impossible for the 14 to remain out when budget bill deliberations actually get underway because they were needed to defend school children, the poor and the elderly against draconian cuts in the bill.
The unprecedented “arrest warrant” was taken as a preemptive strike. As the senators were meeting, a Dane County Court Judge was poised to rule the capitol lockdown unconstitutional. The Republicans hoped to shift the focus of the TV news that night and the next day to their missing Democratic colleagues. But the prominent law firm of Cullen, Weston, Pines threw a wrench into these plans when it quickly reminded the public that "the Wisconsin Constitution absolutely prohibits members of the Wisconsin Senate from being arrested for non-criminal offense. The Wisconsin Senate' action today ... has no basis in the law of this state." Further, the firm argued that if the orders of the Republican legislators were carried out, they themselves could be subject to a contempt ruling under a Wisconsin statute that protects public officials from just this type of chicanery.
Late in the afternoon, the head of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, James Palmer, pleaded for sanity in the State Capitol: "The thought of using law enforcement officers to exercise force in order to achieve a political objective is insanely wrong, and Wisconsin sorely needs reasonable solutions and not potentially dangerous political theatrics.”
Legal Chicanery and Petty Politics
Republican senators had been ramping up the pressure on Democrats all week, passing a resolution Wednesday that fines the absent fourteen $100 for every day they are absent. Lawyers point out that the $100 fine is likely also unconstitutional under Wisconsin law. They passed a resolution to allow the senate Sergeant at Arms to request the assistance of any law enforcement officer in the state to find and return any senator who is absent without leave. The Republican senators needed the extra help, since no local law enforcement agency was treating the political brouhaha as a serious police matter. It is likely the Wisconsin's State Patrol will be suborned into the hunt. The State Patrol is headed by recently-appointed Stephen Fitzgerald, father of both the Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald and State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald.
The Senate also assigned Republican "supervisors" to the staff of he missing senators. For instance, Republican Senator Cowles is assigned to supervise the staff of Democratic Senator Hansen. Many saw this as preparation to fire Democratic staff members, or the ultimate move to expel Democratic senators, which would indeed cause a constitutional crisis, beyond the one precipitated by Walker's unilateral dictates.