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State Supreme Court Protects David Clarke from Public Scrutiny

Issue of the Week

Feb. 28, 2017
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Will the right wing of the Wisconsin Supreme Court ever decide against a fellow right winger?

Last week, four state Supreme Court justices overturned a circuit court decision and a unanimous appellate court decision to rule in favor of reactionary Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke and further eroded the state’s open records law. The ruling is eerily similar to another decision the court made this year, which shielded state Attorney General Brad Schimel from public scrutiny, and the perplexing and corrupt decisions it made in the cases related to the long-running John Doe investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s possibly illegal coordination with allegedly independent right-wing groups aiding his campaign.

In Friday’s 4-2-1 decision—with Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley dissenting and Justice Annette Ziegler abstaining (she’s running unopposed in April for another 10-year term)—the rightist justices ruled that Clarke didn’t have to comply with an open records request from immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera. Voces sought forms containing immigration-related information about some individuals being held at the Milwaukee County Jail. Clarke first ignored the requests, then later provided censored versions of them. Two lower courts ordered Clarke to provide Voces with the complete forms, uncensored.

Clarke appealed to the state Supreme Court, where he knew the odds would be stacked in his favor. And, on cue, the justices further gutted the state’s open records law so that Clarke wouldn’t have to provide information to the public.

The decision was utterly predictable. For roughly a decade, the right wing has dominated the court and has almost completely sided with big business and those allied with the Bradley Foundation, the Republican Party, the Federalist Society and Scott Walker. Just last year, the court added two new justices, Rebecca Bradley and Daniel Kelly, who are even further to the right of the justices they replaced. Bradley, of course, was promoted through the ranks by Walker, and won a term on the court even though some of her hateful, bigoted, homophobic writings were revealed. One of her major campaign supporters? None other than David Clarke, who was the appellant in this case. Talk about cozy. If Bradley were ethical, she would have recused herself from this case.

This horrible decision comes at a critical time. A minority of voters elected a reality TV personality who built his campaign attacking immigrants. Now, as president, he’s setting the stage for a terrifying crackdown on immigrants, refugees and lawful residents of this country. Clarke, who’s both ambitious and cruel, is chomping at the bit to carry out the president’s orders. He’s called for mayors of sanctuary cities to be prosecuted, generated a massive public protest over his anti-immigrant stance and has deflected requests for his resignation following four deaths in his jail last year. Now, thanks to the state Supreme Court, Clarke won’t have to face public scrutiny as he amasses power over Milwaukee’s immigrant community. 

As Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Voces’ executive director, put it, “This decision paves the way for secret deportations, cloaking the criminal and immigration system in secrecy at a time when a fascist element within the Republican Party aims to carry out cruel mass deportations, regardless of people’s record or ties to family or community. According to [Friday’s] decision, if Clarke’s deputies pull over a mother for a broken tail light and detain her for Immigration, the public has no right know. Her children have no right to know.”

Voces is calling for a general strike on May 1. For more information, go to vdlf.org.

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