Friday, May 27, 2011

A lesson for Repubs on democracy and the three branches of government

It would be helpful if state Repubs would remember that courts exist for a reason - not to please them, but often as a crucial last resort when either the executive or legislative branches of government overstep constitutional boundaries, threatening our rights.

The judiciary is a third and co-equal branch of government. It does not exist to serve the interests of the other branches but to protect and defend the Constitution and to correct proposed laws and the process itself as needed when they are not consistent with democratic rights and responsibilities.

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi's ruling striking down the Walker/Fitzgerald union busting bill is not a partisan decision on policy, on the content of the law; it is a legal ruling that what the Repubs did in order to pass that bill was a violation of our state Constitution. It violated the open meetings law by not giving proper public notice of the meeting in which the vote so hastily took place.

Judge Sumi, appointed by Republican Gov Tommy Thompson, is now being called an 'activist' judge and friend of the unions by our much-farther-to-the-right current Repubs.  Amazing how they demonize a Repub-appointee as soon as she dares to use constitutional law to put roadblocks in front of their steamroller.

Okay, Repubs, and especially you, Scott Fitzgerald, a lesson in democracy and the role of the three branches of government. In response to the ruling, Fitzgerald said this: "There's still a much larger separation-of-powers issue: whether one Madison judge can stand in the way of the other two democratically elected branches of government."

Um, Mr. Fitzgerald, yes she can. That is one of the crucial roles of the circuit court, to stand in the way when the legislature does something unconstitutional. That is precisely why we have 3 branches, a blessing from those founding 'fathers' at the federal level taken up by the states so long ago. This is what prevents that threat to democracy called 'tyranny of the majority,' because democracy is not represented by winners of elections doing whatever they want, but by how well the democratic rights of all citizens are protected and defended by whomever is elected.

Courts exist to ensure those rights. The most terrible thing would be having courts at the service of a political party and their agenda - a growing threat from the right in this country. As more and more judges get elected, more and more judges are being bought the same way politicians are bought by corporate campaign money.

Now, in contrast to Mr. Fitzgerald's erroneous understanding of democratic government, here's what Judge Sumi said in her ruling:
"The court must consider the potential damage to public trust and confidence in government if the Legislature is not held to the same rules of transparency that it has created for other governmental bodies. Our form of government depends on citizens' trust and confidence in the process by which our elected officials make laws, at all levels of government."

Now I ask you which statement better reflects the principles and values of a democracy? Which of the two, Fitzgerald or Sumi, can best be trusted to uphold the Constitution? Which one reveals the most basic understanding of the workings of our democratic system of government?

Friends, as we move into this Memorial Day weekend, one of those patriotic moments when we acknowledge those who fought in our wars, most with the motivation of defending our freedom, maybe we could pause a moment to reflect on the privilege of living in a democracy. Maybe we could give pause a moment to think about how under threat it is right now.  And maybe you could pass on this lesson to those legislators and governors who seem in urgent need of it.

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