More than four years ago thousands upon thousands of protesters descended upon Wisconsin’s Capitol to protest Scott Walker’s attack on public employee unions, among other things that were in his “budget repair bill”. Please note that despite media insistence it was never just about Act 10. There were many horrible things in that bill. After a time the Department of Administration pretty much maneuvered security in the building to keep out any more than a handful of protesters at one time. They then started harassing those who were there by trying to set up specific areas of protest in the building.
One group, led by Jeremy Ryan of Defending Wisconsin, decided to hold signs on the first floor of the building (which is actually the floor above the ground floor). Ryan received multiple citations and some of the other members of the group received several also. Like almost all of the arrests that came about as a result of the protests against Walker and his Republican allies the citations were clearly illegal. The Capitol police were making up rules as they went along, the Department of Administration was changing their rules on an almost weekly basis, and none of the small government Republicans in office said a word about the trampling of their citizens’ Constitutional rights of assembly and speech.
These citizens sued the state and the trial was finally held today.
The attorneys for the state seemed as incompetent as the Capitol police. One has to wonder if they even have the stomach for these cases in which they clearly know that the Constitution has been violated. How can lawyers for the Attorney General’s office, which is sworn to uphold the Constitution, even sleep at night when they are defending the state in a case such as this? How can they justify taking it on? And how can the Attorney General let a case like this continue instead of settling? The plaintiffs were clearly within their Constitutional rights to hold signs in the Capitol. There was no danger to anyone and they were simply stating their political opinions in a building that has historically been seen as the state’s town square.
The sign that Ryan was holding said, “ALEC = GOP Greed”. At the time not that many people knew about the American Legislative Exchange Council. Now it is well-known as an organization that allows big business easy access to legislators who are convinced to introduce their boilerplate legislation into law in their home states. Many Republican legislators in Wisconsin belong and Governor Scott Walker was a long-time member as an Assembly representative. The sign that my niece was holding simply said, “Our nation is a union.” Apparently Walker and his minions felt that these were treasonous words and shouldn’t be displayed in a building that they had taken over and made their own palace. Both were ticketed. My niece’s ticket was for just over $200. Today the judge awarded Ryan $750 for each of his many tickets, my niece $4,000 for hers, and several other plaintiffs several thousand dollars each.
If I thought that today’s decision would help the Republicans in power in Wisconsin learn something I would be overjoyed. But they are used to running roughshod over our laws and citizens and the wishes of the people. My expectation is that they will appeal. If it goes all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court there is a conservative majority that seems to care much less about the Constitution than about power, so the victory today may prove to be short-lived.
The state has already spent a considerable amount of money taking hundreds of citizens to court over illegal arrests like these and cases that have been summarily dismissed by the courts. I had a ticket that was dismissed a couple years ago for videotaping in the gallery of the legislature. Walker and his cohorts claim we are broke. Yet they continue spending taxpayer dollars on cases like this when it is clear to the greenest of lawyers that they have no case. I’d like to see them finally give it up. Then again, I’d also like to win a million dollars. That is probably more likely.