Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. – James Madison, Federalist 51
In an article in National Review David French details how Wisconsin failed the challenge of that second great difficulty. The short version is that overzealous, partisan prosecutors politicized law enforcement and weaponized politics to harass supporters of Governor Scott Walker’s reforms in the Badger State.
Cindy Archer, one of the lead architects of Wisconsin’s Act 10 — also called the “Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill,” it limited public-employee benefits and altered collective-bargaining rules for public-employee unions — was jolted awake by yelling, loud pounding at the door, and her dogs’ frantic barking. The entire house — the windows and walls — was shaking.
Naked and afraid, she opened her home and begged the officers not to kill her frantic dogs as she clothed herself. The officers left with only a cell phone and a laptop, but they left Ms. Archer a warning: do not speak of this; do not even retain counsel.
Hers was not the only home invaded/raided as part of what is known as a “John Doe” investigations:
For dozens of conservatives, the years since Scott Walker’s first election as governor of Wisconsin transformed the state — known for pro-football championships, good cheese, and a population with a reputation for being unfailingly polite — into a place where conservatives have faced early-morning raids, multi-year secretive criminal investigations, slanderous and selective leaks to sympathetic media, and intrusive electronic snooping.
After the reforms passed and the protests at the capitol died down, so did the investigation. But Walker’s reelection bid brought a second round of secret investigations, aimed at hurting the governor and his supporters. As French tells it:
If the first series of John Doe investigations was “everything Walker,” the second series was “everything conservative,” as Chisholm had launched an investigation of not only Walker (again) but the Wisconsin Club for Growth and dozens of other conservative organizations, this time fishing for evidence of allegedly illegal “coordination” between conservative groups and the Walker campaign.
In the second John Doe, [Milwaukee County District Attorney John] Chisholm had no real evidence of wrongdoing. Yes, conservative groups were active in issue advocacy, but issue advocacy was protected by the First Amendment and did not violate relevant campaign laws. Nonetheless, Chisholm persuaded prosecutors in four other counties to launch their own John Does, with Judge Kluka overseeing all of them.
James Madison instructed us that one aim of the Constitution was to oblige government to control itself. The First Congress approved — and the states ratified — our Bill of Rights, further limiting the federal government from tyrannizing the people through making them insecure in their own homes, performing unreasonable searches and seizures, or trying them for infamous crimes secretly and without a grand jury. Incorporation of the Fourteenth Amendment places these controls on state and local governments as well. But, in the early morning hours in Wisconsin these controls failed:
Speaking both on and off the record, targets reflected on how many layers of Wisconsin government failed their fundamental constitutional duties — the prosecutors who launched the rogue investigations, the judge who gave the abuse judicial sanction, investigators who chose to taunt and intimidate during the raids, and those police who ultimately approved and executed aggressive search tactics on law-abiding, peaceful citizens.
In many discussions here at Ricochet we battle over police actions and authority. Those who recoil from the use of force by law enforcement officers warn that the powers expressed in those actions — while sometimes absolutely necessary in dealing with criminals — are inherently dangerous, prone to abuse, and carry a temptation impossible to resist. Those who stand up for law enforcement decry our slippery slope arguments and remind us of the necessity of a vigorous enforcement of the law to preserve order and maintain civil society. In Wisconsin, we stand at the bottom of the slope gazing toward what seemed to some as sure footing at the top and wondering how we might get back up.
The matter is now winding its way through the courts, both state and federal, and may — probably should — reach the Supreme Court for resolution. The raids have stopped, and the “John Doe” investigations are nearly dead, but the damage has been done. Law-abiding families were terrorized by their own government protectors, lives and reputations were irreparably harmed, free speech was stifled, and the law was transformed from a shield into a sword.
Conservatives have looked at Wisconsin as a success story, where Walker took everything the Left threw at him and emerged victorious in three general elections. He broke the power of the teachers’ unions and absorbed millions upon millions of dollars of negative ads. The Left kept chanting, “This is what democracy looks like,” and in Wisconsin, democracy looked like Scott Walker winning again and again.
Yet in a deeper way, Wisconsin is anything but a success. There were casualties left on the battlefield — innocent citizens victimized by a lawless government mob, public officials who brought the full power of their office down onto the innocent.
Governors come and go. Statutes are passed and repealed. Laws and elections are important, to be sure, but the rule of law is more important still. And in Wisconsin, the rule of law hangs in the balance — along with the liberty of citizens.
Maybe Hobbes was right that the only choice other than an all-powerful state is a war of all against all. That is, indeed, a very scary world to contemplate. But a war between each individual, naked and alone, against Leviathan is little better. Though we may not have intended to create such a beast, we have done so nonetheless. Against our best efforts to control it, the thing is loose. It hunts us, and it haunts us.
In Wisconsin today, we are Frankenstein—and this is our monster.