Just when you think you've seen it all in Wisconsin politics--you get to see something even more bizarre.
Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan has issued a temporary injunction on preventing further use of the state's voter ID law. That alone was a questionable act--it seems at times elected officials are having their hands tied by judges determined to legislate from the bench.
Aside from that, however, there are a couple of things making Flanagan's involvement unacceptable. First, he signed a petition last fall seeking to recall Gov. Scott Walker.
There's no dispute he signed the petition. His name and address and signature appear on one page of the petition, the signature of his wife is at the bottom of that page as a petition circulator, and she confirmed her husband's action to a Milwaukee reporter.
The judge had the right to sign the petition.
Flanagan then made matters worse by not recusing himself from the voter ID case. According to newspaper reports, there's no evidence he even did the minimum to sidestep charges of bias. He could have, as a defense mechanism, informed lawyers of his participation in the recall process. This happens in courts quite regularly--a judge will reveal his conflicts of interest and give attorneys the opportunity to object to his/her continued involvement in a case.
To make matters worse, Flanagan was running unopposed for his judicial seat in this spring's election. His website lists his campaign manager as Melissa Mulliken, a longtime advisor to Kathleen Falk--she happens to be one of the Democratic candidates lining up against Walker in the expected recall election.
Judges, of course, are supposed to strive to be impartial and independent in cases on which they rule. And if they can't, they're supposed to disclose any conflicts and, if warranted, recuse themselves.
The governor's recall and voter ID law are arguably the two most passionate topics in Wisconsin. The judge's decision to stay on the case suggests--true or not--partisan politics from the bench.
No one expects humans to be free of all bias--we all have opinions. We do expect judges, however, to set aside their personal beliefs as much as possible. There must be a public perception judges perform their duties with fairness. In retrospect, signing the recall petition would be okay with the understanding of full disclosure--a must for an "impartial" judge.
As far as the voter ID law itself, Wisconsin's attorney general said he will appeal Flanagan's ruling to stop the state's new voter identification law from being in effect for this spring's election. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he and his staff members will move quickly to bring the ruling before an appellate court.
Van Hollen said he's confident the law will be upheld. We'll all have to wait and see!