Thursday, March 31, 2011

Republican leaders wrong to call Judge Sumi a "judicial activist"

This morning Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi issued another order barring the implementation of the controversial anti-union "budget" repair bill. Judge Sumi issued the order due to the manner in which the bill was passed: an open meetings law that requires the public be notified of committee hearings was ignored, and the bill as it stood following that purposeful negligence of the law passed the Senate, all in one evening.

Republican leaders, naturally, are furious at the ruling.

"Once again, one Dane County judge is doing everything she can to stand in the way of our efforts," Sen. Maj. Leader Scott Fitzgerald said. "This is judicial activism at its worst."

His brother, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, shared those sentiments, adding that Judge Sumi "wants to keep interjecting herself into the legislative process with no regard to the state constitution."

Is Judge Sumi ruling as a judicial activist? Hardly -- her ruling that the law in question be suspended until further review is in compliance with the norms of judicial review.

It may seem trivial to Republicans, but the right of people to know what's going on in their legislature is a right that has been respected for decades. To ignore it now would undue a valued tradition, would rid our state of a right that every Wisconsin citizen deserves to have.

What's more, the qualms over the ruling that some Republicans are making are ridiculous. The belief that the judicial branch needs to stop meddling with the business of the legislature ignores century of Common Law practice that goes beyond not only our state's birth but the nation's as well. The courts have always had the right to delay law, even to nullify it, if it is passed in an illegal way, outside of the rules that the legislature itself created.

The cry-baby attitude of the Republican Party over Judge Sumi's ruling is ridiculous for another reason: her order doesn't prevent them from re-passing the law. If the Republicans in the legislature are so bent out of shape over this, they can simply pass the law again, this time adhering to the open meetings law, a fact that Judge Sumi herself recognized in the first court hearing she presided over.

Her legal observation furthers the argument that her ruling isn't about political interference from a judge, isn't about her own attitudes or supposed bias towards the law in question -- on the contrary, the judge is recognizing the right of the legislature to pass such a law. To characterize Judge Sumi as reaching beyond her legal capacity as a judge for political gain is ignorant of the fact that she herself established a way for Republicans to legally implement this piece of legislation.

With that in mind, the Republican lawmakers don't have a legitimate argument to make regarding Judge Sumi as an activist. An activist might try to change the law itself, rule it unconstitutional, or otherwise rewrite the law to fit their own beliefs; what Judge Sumi did was simply bar its implementation until it can be further examined by a higher court. That's not "judicial activism," and isn't action "[without] regard to the state constitution" as the "Brothers Fitz" would have you believe.

Republicans in the state who believe Judge Sumi is a judicial activist need to get their heads out of the sand. Acting as any judge would act -- adhering to the rule of law, in this case open meetings law -- is not judicial activism.

No comments:

Post a Comment