Since Scott Walker took office as governor of Wisconsin in 2011, he has faced the state’s bizarre “John Doe investigations”: witch hunts in search of a crime. They have expanded to include conservatives throughout the Badger State.
The tactics used in these investigations have often involved pre-dawn home raids by armed police officers. Those who are the subject of the investigations are prohibited, under force of law, from saying they are the subject of the state’s scrutiny to friends or family.
USA Today contributor Glen Harlan Reynolds, in a recent article entitled Wisconsin’s Dirty Prosecutors Pull A Putin, wrote that the use of the government to go after political opponents is something that one expects under a dictatorship–but not something that should be happening in the United States of America.
Advertisement - story continues below
A John Doe investigation, according to the statute, is a legal proceeding that a judge authorizes to investigate “any conduct that is prohibited by state law and punishable by fine or imprisonment or both.” It is like a grand jury investigation; but rather than falling on a jury of one’s peers to determine if there is likely criminal activity warranting prosecution, the entire process is overseen by a judge.
Wisconsin Democrats have consistently used it to go after Scott Walker under campaign finance laws. To date, they have failed; but they have also turned their guns to go after his supporters–and conservatives in general–in the state in search of any crime they can find. The key to the investigation going forward is finding an agreeable judge.
National Review’s David French, in his article Wisconsin’s Shame: “I Thought It Was a Home Invasion,” chronicles the case of Cindy Archer, an aide to Walker and one of the lead architects of Act 10 in 2011, Wisconsin’s Budget Repair Bill, which limited public-employee benefits and altered collective-bargaining rules for public-employee unions. She became the target of a John Doe investigation later that year. During the pre-dawn hours at her home (just months after the bill’s passage), she heard a loud pounding at the front door. Archer felt like her whole home was shaking. Her dogs began barking frantically.
Archer looked out to see a dozen officers at her front door with a battering ram and heard shouts commanding her to open the door. She was not dressed, and her body was in full view of police. French writes:
Some yelled at her to grab some clothes, others yelled for her to open the door. “I was so afraid,” she says. “I did not know what to do.” She grabbed some clothes, opened the door, and dressed right in front of the police.
The dogs were still frantic. “I begged and begged, ‘Please don’t shoot my dogs, please don’t shoot my dogs, just don’t shoot my dogs.’ I couldn’t get them to stop barking, and I couldn’t get them outside quick enough. I saw a gun and barking dogs. I was scared and knew this was a bad mix.”
The officers ordered her to sit on her couch while they searched her home. When she got up to get a cup of coffee, she was ordered to sit back down or be handcuffed. She was not allowed to call her lawyer; and she noticed a reporter outside, who she believed had clearly been tipped off about the raid.
Advertisement - story continues below
Having conducted an extensive search through her home, leaving her belongings scattered on the floor, the officers left, taking only her phone and laptop. Archer was not charged with any wrongdoing.
French covers other instances of these kinds of violent raids, when political opponents used the John Doe law to go in search of criminal conduct. Dozens of conservatives have been investigated in this matter. He notes:
Largely hidden from the public eye, this traumatic process, however, is now heading toward a legal climax, with two key rulings expected in the late spring or early summer.
The first ruling, from the Wisconsin supreme court, could halt the investigations for good, in part by declaring that the “misconduct” being investigated isn’t misconduct at all but the simple exercise of First Amendment rights.
The second ruling, from the United States Supreme Court, could grant review on a federal lawsuit brought by Wisconsin political activist Eric O’Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth, the first conservatives to challenge the investigations head-on.
If the Court grants review, it could not only halt the investigations but also begin the process of holding accountable those public officials who have so abused their powers. But no matter the outcome of these court hearings, the damage has been done. In the words of Mr. O’Keefe, “The process is the punishment.”