The Wisconsin Supreme Court has struck down the notorious secret prosecution of conservative political figures in the state, the implementation of which included dawn paramilitary raids at the homes of aides to Gov. Scott Walker and leaders of private advocacy groups. Two justices on the seven-member court dissented from key elements of the ruling and one did not participate. From the court’s opinion:
The special prosecutor has disregarded the vital principle that in our nation and our state political speech is a fundamental right and is afforded the highest level of protection. The special prosecutor’s theories, rather than “assur[ing] [the] unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people,” Roth, 354 U.S. at 484, instead would assure that such political speech will be investigated with paramilitary-style home invasions conducted in the pre-dawn hours and then prosecuted and punished.
Our lengthy discussion of these three cases can be distilled into a few simple, but important, points. It is utterly clear that the special prosecutor has employed theories of law that do not exist in order to investigate citizens who were wholly innocent of any wrongdoing. In other words, the special prosecutor was the instigator of a “perfect storm” of wrongs that was visited upon the innocent Unnamed Movants and those who dared to associate with them. It is fortunate, indeed, for every other citizen of this great State who is interested in the protection of fundamental liberties that the special prosecutor chose as his targets innocent citizens who had both the will and the means to fight the unlimited resources of an unjust prosecution. Further, these brave individuals played a crucial role in presenting this court with an opportunity to re-endorse its commitment to upholding the fundamental right of each and every citizen to engage in lawful political activity and to do so free from the fear of the tyrannical retribution of arbitrary or capricious governmental prosecution. Let one point be clear: our conclusion today ends this unconstitutional John Doe investigation.
Coverage and commentary: Roger Pilon/Cato; Gabriel Malor. The conservative Wisconsin Watchdog has provided extensive coverage in more than 200 stories.
Last year I described the conduct of the prosecution in the case as “stunningly abusive” and wrote:
The citizens of Wisconsin must now demand a full accounting of how these raids could have happened. They should also insist on changes in state law, in particular the “John Doe” law, aimed at ensuring that nothing like them ever happens again.
In dissent, former chief justice Shirley Abrahamson writes that the constitutionality of the search methods used was not under review in the cases at hand. Well known election law academic Rick Hasen laments that the ruling endorses the version of events of Walker aides concerning the raids without a full legal airing, although (he writes) the charges of abusive conduct during the raids were “never fully verified” and are part of a set of “fears which generally do not stand up to scrutiny.” (To be clear about what was going on, the aides in question appear to have been gagged by a court order throughout, though someone on their side appears to have succeeded in eventually conveying the story to the Wall Street Journal and other outlets).
Another reaction yesterday, from a well-known advocacy shop in Washington, D.C., might be summed up as follows: “We need 500 words on the Wisconsin John Doe dismissal, but don’t mention the dawn paramilitary raids or the gag orders.” “OK, can do.”
Related: Ilya Shapiro says a petition for certiorari by former Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch “provides an excellent vehicle for the U.S. Supreme Court to address the degree to which the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant for searching electronic data, tailored to probable cause.”