Thursday, March 1, 2012

Shut out again

By Sandra Miller

Did you hear that?

It was certainly loud and most definitely clear, that disturbingly familiar sound of yet another door slamming shut on the people of Wisconsin.

On Monday, our State Supreme Court voted 4-3 to move their conferences on administrative matters behind closed doors, hidden from public scrutiny or input.

So why should we care about this decision by the Court? After all, it’s only discussions on “administrative matters” we’re talking about here... can’t be anything more than minor procedural stuff.

Probably just a waste of our time and attention, right?

Uh.... Wrong.

These administrative policies help determine how our state’s highest court operates. Slated for one of these now closed-door conferences is a proposal by Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson. The topic?

“Civility and Public Trust and Confidence.”

Yes. Really.

Lest anyone forget, our State Supreme Court is not some private concern. These individuals are elected by the public; they are doing the public’s work.

Wouldn’t it follow that the public is entitled to see and evaluate their elected Justices in action?

During Monday’s heated discussion of the rule change, Justice Ann Bradley stated that she couldn’t think of a “good public policy reason to exclude the public from this process,” while Justice Michael Gableman said that keeping such discussions private would help promote “consensus building and collegiality” within the Court.

Hmmm... somehow I don’t think Justice Bradley is ever going to buy into that line of thinking.

(By the way, Justice Prosser’s contribution to the discussion: “I think it would be better if I didn’t speak.”)

Oh, but wait---there’s more!  The other reason for proposing this new rule is that keeping these discussions from the public eye will save time.

Because that’s what we all want, our State Supreme Court spending less time openly discussing issues on how they operate -- and heaven forbid, concerning themselves with the public’s opinion thereof -- and more time “congenially” voting along partisan lines.

We can only hope the door doesn’t hit us on the way out.

Sandra Miller is Director of Information Services and Outreach for Common Cause in Wisconsin

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