Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

For Immediate Release

Contact

Seth Hoy, seth.hoy@nyu.edu or 646-292-8369

Press Release

BRIEF: Legal Ethicists Urge Wisconsin Justices to Consider Recusal in Gov. Scott Walker Campaign Finance Case

WASHINGTON -

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law submitted an amicus brief today on behalf of legal ethicists urging Wisconsin Supreme Court justices to consider constitutional requirements for judicial recusal. Last month, the special prosecutor in the challenge to the ‘John Doe’ investigation into Gov. Scott Walker's campaign filed a recusal motion under seal asking one or more Wisconsin justices to step aside.

Although the details of the challenge are sealed, reports indicate that three special interest groups — the Wisconsin Club for Growth, Citizens for a Strong America, and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce — are under investigation for possible campaign finance violations in connection with Wisconsin Gov. Walker’s campaign during the recall election of 2011 and 2012. These same special interest groups also reportedly spent millions in support of the election campaigns of four of the state’s supreme court justices, who are now hearing a constitutional challenge to the ‘John Doe’ investigation.

The Brennan Center’s brief argues that the Wisconsin Supreme Court must consider the recusal motion in a manner consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Caperton v. Massey, which ruled that judges may be required to recuse themselves when a litigant provides significant campaign support to a judge.

“Recusal is a vital tool that helps judges avoid potential conflicts of interest or bias, especially when campaign contributors are involved,” said Charles Geyh, Law Professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law. “Based on reports of campaign spending by targets of the John Doe investigation, a reasonable person would doubt the capacity of some of the justices to be impartial.”

“When judges receive money from lawyers and special interests groups who may later appear before them, Americans rightly worry that our courts are for sale,”said Matthew Menendez, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The Constitution requires judges to step aside from cases when there is a serious risk that campaign spending will impact their ability to faithfully apply the law to the facts before them.”

Notably, the Wisconsin Supreme Court amended the state’s code of judicial conduct in 2010 to specifically exclude campaign contributions and independent expenditures as bases for recusal in Wisconsin.

The Brennan Center filed the brief on behalf of the following legal ethicists: Barbara Gillers, Professor, NYU School of Law, Stephen Gillers, Professor, NYU School of Law; Lawrence Fox, Visiting Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School; Steven Lubet, Professor, Northwestern University School of Law; Charles Geyh, Professor, Indiana University School of Law; and Bruce Green, Professor, Fordham Law School.

Read the Brennan Center’s case page here.

###

Brennan Center for Justice logo

The Brennan Center for Justice is a nonpartisan law and policy institute. We strive to uphold the values of democracy. We stand for equal justice and the rule of law. We work to craft and advance reforms that will make American democracy work, for all.

Progressives Say 'Do What the People Want and Tax the Rich' to Pay for Infrastructure

"It is obvious that if we're going to address the needs of working families in this country, we need revenue," says Sen. Bernie Sanders, "and one way that we get that revenue is by demanding that the wealthiest people, the largest corporations are paying their fair share."

Jessica Corbett, staff writer ·


Doctors Without Borders Calls on BioNTech to Share Vaccine Tech With World

"The faster companies share the know-how, the faster we can put an end to this pandemic."

Andrea Germanos, staff writer ·


Over 30,000 US Veterans of Post-9/11 Wars Have Killed Themselves Since 2001

"As we come closer to the twentieth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, we must reflect on the mental health cost of the Global War on Terror."

Julia Conley, staff writer ·


Sunrise Ends 400-Mile Climate March With Arrests at Ted Cruz's House

The Gulf South marchers demand that Congress and the Biden White House pass bold climate jobs legislation, including a bill to create a Civilian Climate Corps.

Jessica Corbett, staff writer ·


Global Hopes in Doubt After G7 Fails to Meet Climate Finance Pledges for Poor Nations

"I'd have really hoped for a clearer signal on how and when we will be able to see the commitment to mobilize the $100 billion fulfilled."

Andrea Germanos, staff writer ·