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Court bypasses Wisconsin political fray

The Supreme Court chose on Monday to stay out of a years-long political battle surrounding Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and his political allies, leaving the dispute to be sorted out in state court.  Without comment, the Court turned aside a plea by a conservative political activist to revive a civil rights lawsuit against a special prosecutor over an investigation of supporters for the governor’s anti-union efforts.

The denial of review in O’Keefe v. Chisholm came amid a series of orders the Court issued in new cases.  After issuing those orders, and before releasing final decisions of the day, the Court formally recognized the new attorney general, Loretta Lynch, in a brief ceremony.

Among the orders it issued, the Court agreed to try again to decide an issue over federal court powers that it took up, and then bypassed, two years ago — the effect on a lawsuit if the side that is sued offers to give the challenger everything sought, but the challenger goes ahead anyway.   That issue arises anew in the case of Campbell-Ewall Co. v. Gomez, with a particular focus on whether a pay-off offer of that kind can keep a class-action lawsuit from going forward because the lead challenger got an offer of a full remedy. 

The Court’s refusal to get into the middle of a bitter, mostly partisan feud in Wisconsin was not a surprise, because the case is still undergoing review in the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the groups complaining about the prosecutor have already been able to stop a series of investigations that had run on nearly five years.

At the core of the investigations was local Democratic prosecutors’ suspicion that conservative political advocacy groups were violating Wisconsin’s limits on campaign finance by their support for the policy goals of Republican Governor Walker, before he was governor and since he took office.  Political activist Eric O’Keefe and a group he helps lead, Wisconsin Club for Growth, argued that the investigation was a form of retaliation for the free-speech activities of the governor’s political allies.  It was O’Keefe and that organization that sought to appeal to the Supreme Court.

While a state judge had blocked the investigation, by nullifying existing subpoenas to the governor’s allied organizations, the question whether there was a violation, at all, of Wisconsin election law is now before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  Even so, O’Keefe and his group were attempting to revive their civil rights claims against the lead prosecutor and local Democratic county attorneys.

Gov. Walker has gained prominence among Republicans, especially over his efforts to take away the bargaining rights of public-sector labor unions in Wisconsin.  The governor is now actively exploring the possibility of a run for the presidency.

The Court also denied review Monday of several other disputes:

** A test case on whether the U.S. Tax Court has been created in an unconstitutional way, because the President has the authority to remove that court’s judges.   The issue was raised by a New York couple who have been engaged in a running tax dispute with the Internal Revenue Service (Kuretzki v. IRS).

** A plea to clarify the duty of public school districts to reimburse parents of a disabled child who has been placed in a private school — the so-called “stay put” provision, which mandates that a child remain in the current school assignment while a dispute over reimbursement remains in dispute.  Solicitor General Don Verrilli, asked by the Court for the government’s views on the issue of the timing of the “stay-put” clause, had urged a denial of review in Ridley School District v. M.R.

** A request by businesses that formerly made pigments for lead-based paints to avoid liability under a sweeping Wisconsin legal concept that permits legal claims for long-ago uses of such paints in home decoration, even if the particular company which provided the paint used cannot be identified.  Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., took no part as the other Justices denied review in American Cyanamid Co. v. Gibson.





Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Court bypasses Wisconsin political fray, SCOTUSblog (May. 18, 2015, 2:31 PM),