Judge: Walker's Plot to Arrest Critics is 'Unconstitutional'

Over 100 people showed up to the Solidarity Sing Along in the Wisconsin Capitol on Thursday to celebrate a ruling by Dane County Judge John Markson that declared Governor Scott Walker’s plot to have his critics arrested “unconstitutional on its face.”

Walker triggered a torrent of over 400 citations with an administrative rule issued last summer that banned organized groups from demonstrating in the Capitol without prior authorization.

The vast majority of those arrested were carried away by Capitol police for singing songs that antagonize Republicans and call out their abuses of power. Walker later rewarded his top enforcers on the Capitol police force with double-digit raises.

In his ruling Thursday, Judge Markson concluded that Walker's rule was not “narrowly tailored to the legitimate government interests it seeks to promote,” making it “unconstitutional on its face.”

The Solidarity Singers celebrate their victory in the Capitol on Thursday. Photo: Rebecca Kemble.

The 28-page decision also takes Walker’s Department of Justice to task for multiple procedural inconsistencies, including filing late briefs with the court and arguing contradictory points in different cases before the same judge.

In a ruling on a related case also released Thursday, Judge Markson further admonished Walker’s prosecutors for changing the rule under which defendants were cited after the fact.

In State of Wisconsin vs. John B. Bell, Markson wrote: “I cannot ignore any party - much less the State's - altering a document filed with the court so that it is different from the one actually served upon the other party. That this is wrong requires no explanation.”

“How this could happen is perplexing at best,” the judge concluded.

The Crute ruling also caused charges to be dismissed in 29 different cases. Among them were three tickets given to this reporter’s 86-year-old father.

Markson’s decision comes at a bad time for the Walker Administration, following a series of losses in court.

In one major setback for Walker, Dane County Judge Peter Anderson ordered the Administration to conduct a cost-benefit study on the merits of arresting people for singing without a permit.

Another case, against Nora Cusack -- a woman who was arrested not for singing, but for holding a sign -- was also dismissed recently. Cusack, like many who faced arrest during the crackdown, was on hand Thursday to celebrate the judge's ruling.

Cusack at the Capitol on Thursday. Photo: Rebecca Kemble.

Similarly, Dane County’s district attorney also refused to prosecute Matthew Rothschild, publisher and senior editor of The Progressive, for taking a photo of three elderly women who were being arrested -- an act of journalism that Walker’s enforcers called “obstruction.”

It is not yet clear whether Markson's decision will set a precedent for the 300+ outstanding cases, which are currently before 12 other Dane County judges.

At a press conference in the Capitol on Thursday, Michael Crute of “Devil’s Advocates Radio,” whose charge was dropped, urged the state to give up on the other outstanding charges.

“I don’t have a lot of hope for the Walker Administration, but I would ask that he consider declaring defeat magnanimously and moving on and dismissing the charges, because this is a monumental waste of human resources and treasury of the taxpayers of the State of Wisconsin,” he said.

Joining him, State Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) called Walker's crackdown on the singers "harassment" and demanded that Walker’s prosecutors “stop hauling people to court when they are just exercising their constitutional rights.”

“The process by which people were cited was wrong and was so egregious that there should be sanctions,” she added.

Dominic Salvia, Crute’s co-host, echoed the sentiment. “Our tea party, small government governor used the force of the state to come down on people he disagrees with,” he said.

Salvia, a self-proclaimed small government libertarian, added that Walker’s divide-and-conquer strategy and crackdown on free speech seems to have the unintended effect of bringing people together from across the political spectrum. The unconstitutional actions of those who carried out that crackdown are, according to Salvia, “going to hound them politically for the rest of their lives.”

Watch the press conference:


Featured photo: Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock.com.