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Just what Wisconsin doesn’t need, an open mtgs rule for Sup Ct deliberations

Just what Wisconsin doesn’t need, an open mtgs rule for Sup Ct deliberations

Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson appears to have lost not only the confidence of some Justices on the Court, but the ability to lead the Court.

The latest incident, in which (liberal) Justice Ann Walsh Bradley charged with fist raised at (conservative) Justice David Prosser, and then made a false allegation that Prosser used a chokehold on her, is a low point in the annals of judicial history, at least in recent memory.

Abrahamson apparently has decided that she is incapable of keeping things under control, because she now is proposing the judicial equivalent of an open meetings law, in which the deliberations of the Justices would be open to the public.  As reported by JSOnline:

 Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson is laying out her plan to make Supreme Court deliberations public.

Responding to a recent physical altercation between two justices, Abrahamson is seeking to raise ebbing public confidence in the court….

Right now, administrative conferences on the court are open to the public but deliberations are not. Legal scholars have said it might be difficult to open them as Abrahamson has proposed.

The court will take up the proposals in Abrahamson’s memo on Sept. 15. In the memo, she says she wants to start a discussion and doesn’t necessarily endorse all the various options laid out:

* The presumption should be that all conferences are open, with all conferences held either in the court’s hearing room or in a more private location where the conference would be streamed to the public.

* The court should presume that conferences be open when the court considers which cases it will take.

* Court conferences could be taped and then released later after the cases have been resolved.

* An expert on conflict resolution could work with all of the justices individually.

I don’t claim to have surveyed every court in the nation, but I’m not aware of any appeals court where the deliberations (as opposed to the oral arguments and court proceedings) are open to the public.

The entire concept goes against the nature of appellate deliberations, where Justices should be able to improve their own legal analysis by testing that analysis in private with other Justices.   Making such deliberations public is the surest way to lock Justices into positions, politicize issues, and ensure that robust legal debate does not take place.

Given the fiasco of the Wisconsin Open Meetings law, and the protests which disrupted the State Capitol, it is hard to see how making deliberations public will do anything other than inflame an already tense situation on a variety of issue which come before the Court.

Encouraging the public and dispute resolution experts to do the Chief Justices’s job for her is not a solution, it simply is a symptom of the problem.  Abrahamson’s desire for the Court to go public with its deliberations is an admission that she cannot lead as Chief Justice.


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I can’t imagine that any appellate court would allow the public to view their deliberations. This would become a circus with citizens offering their opinions. Heck, why not let the citizens vote, also.
I know in Maryland, the 2 appellate court’s deliberations are strictly private.
You are correct in your assessmant [once again] that Judge Abrahamson cannot control the conduct of her colleagues, or at least Judge Bradley’s conduct.

    orangemtl in reply to Towson Lawyer. | September 6, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Yes. Imagine a few union ‘plants’, sitting in on the legality of eliminating collective bargaining for state employees. Circus? Absolutely.

DINORightMarie | September 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm

I believe the whole incident between Justice Prosser and Justice Bradley was initiated because Justice Prosser said he had lost confidence in Abrahamson. Perhaps this is her way of punishing him, in the name of “openness,” “transparency,” and “boosting public confidence?” Inadvertently, she is revealing that she is unable to lead or control the justices she is supposed to lead.

Just what could she think would be a positive outcome from this proposal? To control everyone? To make the public aware of the behavior of the justices? To stifle debate? No matter which answer, it reflects poorly on Abrahamson. Incompetence exposed, indeed.

Aren’t these justices elected to their positions? If so, Wisconsin needs to vote Bradley and Abrahamson off the courts. That would be positive change!

Evidently Abrahamson still hasn’t come to terms with the fact that her cabal is in the minority on the current court. Might her new suggestions have something to do with recent rumblings that Justice Patrick Crooks is unhappy with his current work environment and is contemplating retirement? I believe his current term runs until 2016. That means Scott Walker could appoint Crooks’ replacement to serve until the next open year rolls around (2014?). These suggestions are just political life preservers being thrown in all directions.

I think this is a fabulous idea. Just because the meetings would be “open” does not mean they should allow public opinion. Simply let the justices improve their own legal analysis by testing that analysis with other Justices – in public. Why would anyone derive any harm if the public were able to observe the deliberations?

The justices are paid to do the work of the people. Why should the people not be allowed to observe the process and see exactly how each justice thinks about the issues. It could be very educational.

Try it and see how it goes.

    bobby b in reply to Ipso Facto. | September 7, 2011 at 1:05 am

    Why should people not be allowed to observe the process?

    These are elected positions. The job of being a Supreme Court Justice doesn’t involve making decisions based on “compassion”, or based on polls, or based on the kinds of arguments and rationales that best lend themselves to the mindless demagoguery that always – always – results from putting these kinds of discussions onto the public stage.

    The Justices need the kind of discussion that can only come when all of them – experienced lawyers all – accept that arguing any point outside of the bare, dry law makes them look silly. Someone throwing out “we need to do this for the children!” is rightly going to be treated as a moron by the other justices, because that’s not their job.

    But if the public gets to watch, then some of them are going to MAKE it their job – to emote, and to cry, and to say stupid things like “for the children!” – and then there’s no longer a Supreme Court – there’s simply another legislative body, but with a more final say.

    Plus, everyone knows this is just A’s catty way of saying “we want witnesses if we have to go back into a room with that vile strangling animal!” She’s still mortified that she couldn’t deliver what she promised she could deliver to the Democrat leadership back when the vote was finally taken on the legislative side on Walker’s bill, and she’s not really regained rationality since then. As for Bradley, she’s never been overly stable to begin with, and watching Ms. A repeatedly get dissed has tended to leave her more unhinged than before. Personally, were I Prosser, I’d be insisting that each and every meeting be videotaped from multiple angles from now on. A and B have both exhibited a scary willingness to casually and easily lie for any advantage.

Open deliberations? That makes no sense. Just give them all boxing gloves. Or handguns. An armed society is a polite society, as somebody once said.

I think this will actually backfire on her. I suppose the idea is to expose justices to the same howling mobs of union thugs and college activists legislators were subjected to as a means of browbeating them into submission.

I don’t know about y’all, but jeers and insults from the crowd would not only cause me to dig my heels in deeper, it would probably make me even more negatively inclined towards the protesters’ side’s case. Good luck keeping that in check when writing a final opinion.

And what if you’re a justice on the fence? Is an ill-mannered mob more likely to win you over to their side, or drive you away? This is a petty, short-sighted move that will end up biting her on the ass.

Hell, who needs a circus when you’ve got Wisconsin?

When will the liberals stop making all Wisconsites look like idiots. After a wonderful win in November with Walker taking governorship, conservatives taking control of both houses and Johnson defeating Feingold I thought the time of WI being political jokes would be less. How silly of me to expect the liberals to act like adults.

Abrahamson needs to retire since she obviously cannot perform the job she was elected to do.

I can hear it now: “Whose court, our court!”

Her purpose is to embarrass Justices whose thinking is modified (whose analysis is sharpened) by discussion. Specific targets are Gableman and Ziegler.

Lets have an In Camera Camera. The cops have in car cameras and in the vast majority of cases where cop behavior has been scrutinized via recording the cops are doing what they were trained to do the way they were trained to do it.

Your Honor, here is your wireless mic, try not to wander outside of the camera’s field of view.

Thanks, Professor!

The best part of this whole scheme is how much all this will save the taxpayer!

Yes, I know everyone thinks it’s all about liberal sour grapes, but the woman will certainly need legions of union workers to prepare the hearing rooms, the cameras, the transcripts, blah blah blah. How bad are things when a member of the judiciary branch is so viciously immoral and disrespectful of the office the people have elected her to? Bah!

Abrahamson is the problem on the court. She no longer can control it because of the conservative majority, so she intentionally has been making a mockery of it.

I’m not a lawyer and I don’t play one on TV but it seems to me that Abrahamson and Bradley lack judicial temperament.

Yeah, I can just see the Supreme Court taken over by union thugs intent on extorting the Court to make decisions in their favor.

The definition of Insanity lives! Open meeting laws have failed to improve governance everywhere else so why not let that law fail to improve justice in Wisconsin? No way that could come back and bite anyone. Is there?

She plans on embarrassing them and/or making the public get the idea the other justices (excluding Bradley, of course) are incompetent morons. The public does not understand how ideas are thrown out in meetings to see if they have merit. She will give the impression that the other justices are wasting the public’s time time with ridiculous things a first year law student would not voice. She will make fun of their ideas by using derisive statements with confrontational body language and snide remarks and hope they will not be re-elected when the time comes. It is the dims only hope and she should be careful it doesn’t backfire on her. She has an agenda for this. Only time will really tell us what it is.

Is it me or does anyone else get the idea that no matter how high a dim goes in government, he/she is still under the specific orders of the dim party and has no allegience to the people and the government they are supposed to represent? These people are truly bought and as the past has shown easily sold too.

Messes With Texas | September 6, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Public streaming, taping and Conflict Resolution Consultants sound expensive. If Justice Abrahamson is merely trying to prevent future brawls, she could do so a lot cheaper by either hiring a couple of really big bouncers to sit in on deliberations, or have the justices petition for mutual protective orders against each other requiring 100 yards distance between them. Deliberations could then be held safely by conference call.

Yikes. Open judicial discussion is a very bad idea.

What is so complicated ? Abrahamson has lost her mind.

judicial deliberations open to the public are a bad idea.

judicial deliberations wherein the justices are publically elected is a downright horrible, and dangerous idea.