- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 19

Short-handed Supreme Court missing calls

We’re umpires; we call balls and strikes, John Roberts told a Senate committee at his confirmation hearings to become chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

But when the umpires are short-handed, they miss calls, and with the death of conservative heavyweight Antonin Scalia, that already is happening. The Senate should stop making political sport of the nation’s highest court and move ahead with the process to replace Scalia. Instead, the court’s eight justices face the prospect of 4-4 deadlocks on a variety of contentious cases, including several arising from Wisconsin.

Unfortunately, this crew may be working short for a while: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is adamant that only the next president should nominate a replacement. Facing the loss of a conservative majority on the court, McConnell has held firm. But understanding McConnell’s political motivation doesn’t make his decision to paralyze the court any less reprehensible.

The court split 4-4 last month in a challenge brought by California teachers who claimed their right to free expression was violated when they were forced to pay union dues to the state’s teachers union. Had Scalia survived, it’s likely the court would have overturned a 1977 precedent and gotten rid of such “agency fees.” Instead, the court deadlocked, upholding an appeals court decision.

There likely will be more examples of justice deferred.

The challenge to Wisconsin’s legislative maps is one. The maps were drawn by Republican lawmakers in 2011 after they took control of state government. Legislators are required to redraw the maps once a decade to account for shifts in population, and that necessity - and the Republican sweep in the 2010 elections - ensured that GOP leaders could gerrymander their party into a formidable majority for years to come.

Wisconsin Democrats argue that the GOP’s mapmaking was improper. But while the Supreme Court has ruled in the past that maps can be so partisan that they violate voters’ rights, the justices have not agreed on a standard to determine that. The Democrats are proposing one. A panel of three federal judges ruled earlier this month that they would decide the matter after a trial in May. Any appeal would go directly to the Supreme Court, where a deadlock could leave the panel’s ruling in place.

Other Wisconsin cases that could reach a deadlocked court include a challenge to the state’s voter ID law and a requirement that physicians who provide abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they perform the procedure.

There is a solution: Hold hearings and take a vote on Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, the chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. McConnell has claimed Garland would move the court “dramatically to the left.” But Garland is a judicial moderate with a long and distinguished record. As McConnell well knows, hearings would expose this fact. The Senate approved Garland’s elevation to the D.C. Circuit 76-to-23 in 1997.

Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, says senators should just “man up” and take a vote on Obama’s nominee. We agree. Johnson should follow Kirk’s lead.

Let the umpires get back to the game at full strength.


Wisconsin State Journal, April 22

Cop camera brings clarity to UW graffiti arrest controversy

The UW-Madison police officer knew he was on camera.

So did the 21-year-old student, suspected of spray-painting provocative messages - some about racism - on university buildings.

“I have a body camera on, just to let you know,” the officer informed the student shortly after entering a classroom to confirm the student’s name and ask him to step outside to talk.

It’s all on camera, documenting the arrest of Denzel McDonald in more detail and clarity than any written police report could ever provide. That’s the power and benefit of recording video and audio of officer interactions - and why more departments should equip their patrol officers with the technology.

A camera encourages police to act professionally, as UW-Madison’s officers did during last week’s controversial arrest. Capturing images and sound also can help hold law enforcement accountable when policies and public trust are broken.

Similarly, filming police interviews and arrests make the public more respectful of, and helpful to, law enforcement. McDonald complied with most of the officer’s requests, though some answers were evasive.

Because the UW Police Department wisely equips its patrol officers with body cameras, the public doesn’t have to speculate about what happened. They can just see for themselves.

The uniform camera was a neutral witness. In fact, it confirmed an officer entered the student’s classroom rather than waiting for class to end. That violated policy, according to UW Police Chief Sue Riseling, who apologized for the mistake.

But the video also shows only one officer - not two, as a professor claimed - entering the class. Viewers can see and hear that the professor wasn’t in front of the class speaking, which lends some credence to the officer’s contention he didn’t think class had started.

The low-key video doesn’t suggest other students were “humiliated and terrified,” as the professor contended. Nor does it resemble anything approaching an “ambush.” The officer is in the classroom for just 30 seconds before leaving with McDonald to talk elsewhere.

Additional video, including some from a security camera above Library Mall, show the officer and suspect discussing evidence and walking to a police car. McDonald is eventually shown being booked into jail.

The public knows far more about the incident thanks to cameras. Yet privacy was respected. When the student is asked for his phone number, for example, the sound is briefly muted on the video released to the public.

Police are recommending McDonald be charged with vandalizing several university buildings, causing damage of more than $4,000. A disorderly conduct charge is possible because police say he threatened a bystander who tried to stop him from defacing property.

McDonald, who is black, tells the officer in the video he’s upset about “police brutality, incarceration, slavery of the African people.”

“There’s different ways, though, than damaging property to get your point across, right?” the officer says. “Because then you don’t have to talk to us, man. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah,” McDonald responds.

That was the most instructive part of all.


Beloit Daily News, April 23

Why not try this: Live and let live?

If First Amendment rights are to survive long-term in this often confused and topsy-turvy country, there will come a time when government officials have to man (or woman) up and say it like it is: America is supposed to be a live and let live place, and that’s the right answer.

Some call that libertarian. We call it common sense.

Case in point: In Middleton a couple of years back a group of Christian parents started doing a “Jesus Lunch” in a public park adjacent to the community high school. Youngsters are allowed to leave campus during the two lunch periods and those who wanted could meander over to the park for free food and a few minutes of preaching. The event grew and eventually a few hundred kids showed up at the weekly “Jesus lunches.”

Right. We don’t even have to say it, do we?

Some people got offended.

That old standby, the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, helped organize a protest demanding that Jesus Lunch cease on the orders of the school district. Middleton officials are on board with that, saying religious or political events should not have a place at school. Since the district leases space in the municipal park that becomes part of the school’s jurisdiction and, administrators wrote to parents suggesting Jesus Lunch was a problem. At the protest a teenage speaker, who identified himself as an atheist in reporting by the Wisconsin State Journal, is quoted: “People keep saying, ‘Oh, this isn’t a big deal. It’s been blown out of proportion.’ They are always white, Christian people. … I have had to defend myself and explain myself so many times this week. People don’t get it because people don’t think beyond themselves.”

That could be said about everybody’s viewpoint, on every side of the issue - or, for that matter, most issues.

The First Amendment - in our view, the fundamental foundation of American freedom - can be a complex, complicated and frequently conflicting series of phrases. It guarantees free speech. It guarantees a free press. It guarantees freedom of religion. It guarantees freedom to assemble and protest.

Sometimes, all of that happens at once in the same spot at the same time.

Taken separately, the organizers of Jesus Lunch are engaging both in free speech and freedom to worship; the kids who voluntarily attend Jesus Lunch are doing the same thing; those who want to gather and shut down Jesus Lunch are engaging in protected speech and assembly as well; and the press reporting the conflict tags along or you, dear reader, would be left in an informational black hole, a bad place to be in a country purporting to be free and self-governing.

The complicating factor is the school lease, dropping a curtain of official sanction over the event venue. That can be uncomplicated by moving to a different spot, probably in the same park, since Middleton High School only leases part of the land.

Then it ought to come back to that “live and let live” point. Let adults exercise their right to host the lunch. Let kids go or not go; no one is forcing them to eat or to listen to a Christian message. Let protesters register objections if the spirit moves them.

Under the Constitution, America is a pluralistic society in which each individual is free to exercise the rights granted so long as that exercise does not harm or violate the rights of others.

The Constitution does not forbid the exercise of one’s rights just because it annoys or offends somebody else. You exercise your rights; I’ll exercise mine. Live and let live.

Get over it.

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