Thursday, February 16, 2017

State Bar of Wisconsin to the rescue!

Donald Trump recently criticized a federal judge by calling him a “so-called judge” and arguing that the judge’s suspension of Trump’s executive order put the country at risk.  So of course, the Wisconsin State Bar’s “52-member Board of Governors” had to swing into action and adopt “a unified statement” to protect the federal judiciary from the impact of free speech.  Personally, I have no opinion as to whether Trump’s criticism is accurate, but I have serious problems with our state bar — an organization that we Wisconsin lawyers are forced to join and fund — making this so-called unified statement.

First, the state bar, quoting a bureaucrat from the ABA, claims that “there are no so-called judges” and condemns Trump’s comments.  Really, state bar?  There is no such thing as a “so-called judge”?  You think that judges as a class are above criticism and should be universally respected so we can perpetuate all of the necessary illusions about our legal system?

What about the judges that took cash from private companies in exchange for sending juveniles to private prisons?  (That’s the “kids for cash” scandal, which you can read about here.)  Or what about the judge who was taking money from defendants in exchange for lenient sentences — only to sentence indigent defendants more harshly in order to maintain his tough-on-crime image?  (You can read about that judge here.)  And what about the judges who simply don’t understand or even care about the basic laws they are supposed to apply and uphold?  (I’ve written about some of them on this blog.)  They, too, should be above criticism?   

Second, the bar’s “unified statement” claims that it respects “the right of any person” to have an opinion and even to disagree with a judge.  But apparently it does not respect the person’s right to express that opinion, warning that Trump’s rather benign comments were “ill-considered” and risk erosion of “respect for all judges, for court orders, and ultimately the rule of law.”  That’s some rather dramatic, over-the-top hyperbole, state bar.  You think our free society will essentially crumble if the citizenry, well, exercises its right to free speech?  Are you saying that we are entitled to our thoughts and opinions, but only if we keep them to ourselves? 

Here are some realities about the state bar’s unified statement.  Despite its meaningless concession that we are all entitled to our opinions, it is blatantly anti-speech.  This is not surprising, given that the state bar has worked to suppress even its memberships’ basic free speech rights by, for example, actively opposing this rules petition.  Further, in its attempt to elevate the judiciary above criticism, it ignores this fact: Few things are more important in a democracy than being able to openly criticize one of the branches of government.  I realize the state bar bar is separate from the OLR, and has no power to actually restrict speech, but I’m tired of it advocating for such restrictions — particularly because it is operating on my dime.    

And this leads to my final point.  Reading this unified statement from the organization that I am forced to join and pay for hammers home what the Irreverent Lawyer has been telling us for years: A mandatory bar, in and of itself, violates my First Amendment rights

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