Here's the test: Would your side howl if it happened to them?
AN OLD SAYING most folks have heard at one time or another: There's legal, and then there's right.
We're reminded of that thought after the Wisconsin Supreme Court last week reinstated nearly all the lame-duck laws that have been challenged and placed on hold by lower courts. It's not a surprise since the clearly conservative majority at the high court routinely dismisses rulings of lower courts in order to stay in lockstep with the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate.
By the way, we're not necessarily saying the court's ruling was decided incorrectly.
AT ISSUE IS whether - following an election but before the next changing of the guard occurs - the incumbents still have the authority to act, in these instances, with the intent of limiting the power of those who won at the ballot box.
Make no mistake, that's exactly what Gov. Scott Walker, who lost to Democrat Tony Evers, did in concert with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. They passed laws that shifted certain authorities from the governor's office and the attorney general's office (Democrat Josh Kaul defeated incumbent Republican Brad Schimel) to the legislature.
Likewise, make no mistake, it's not surprising such actions appear to be legal and within office-holders' scope of power. There's only one governor at a time and until the new guy is sworn in the old guy remains in charge. Same with the legislature, though Republicans retained control after the 2018 elections.
THE QUESTION, THOUGH, is this: Does that make it right?
Not in our view.
Among the many blessings of American democracy is the tradition of a graceful passage of power. When the people make a decision, the politicians are supposed to honor it.
Yes, the governor's election was close, but Evers clearly won the office fair and square. Walker forever stained his reputation by cooperating in a pure partisan power play aimed at kneecapping his successor. Does anyone really think, if the shoe were on the other foot and a defeated Democrat set out to handicap an incoming Republican governor, partisan GOP members would not raise the Capitol dome with their angry howls? And they would be justified.
Once again, though, the proof has been provided. The hypocrisy of the political class knows no bounds. Principle, it seems, always plays second fiddle to partisanship.
Legal? So stipulated.
But right? Absolutely not, and voters should remember that.
A FINAL WORD: Critics, including this newspaper, long have lamented the politicization of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Though it's supposedly nonpartisan, every election candidates are fielded with allegiances to the Republican and Democrat parties. Right now, Republicans hold sway, which is why politically-related lower court rulings usually take a predictable path to resolution when they reach the Supremes. The parties clearly care only about acquiring and exercising raw power. They view the judiciary as merely a third branch of government - the others are executive and legislative - for partisans to fight over for strategic control. The idea of an independent judiciary to check and balance the partisan excesses of the political branches is fading into a quaint concept from the past. Voters expect the political branches to be more attracted to might than right. But when the same partisanship infects the black-robe set, we live in a morally impoverished society.