The state Supreme Court will not hear oral arguments in a legal challenge to a John Doe investigation into potential illegal campaign coordination between conservative groups and Governor Scott Walker’s campaign.
In a 4-2 decision released late Friday afternoon, the high court said its decision was based on concerns about the impact of a secrecy order issued in the proceedings, which would prevent them from being able to publicly identify some plaintiffs in the case. Several of the unnamed groups targeted by the probe have argued that their activity was not illegal, and a judge sided with that position more than a year ago in halting the investigation.
The Supreme Court was set to hear arguments in the case in mid-April and has been trying to work out how the case should be handled for several weeks. Supreme Court proceedings are typically broadcast on WisconsinEye, and the court had been considering solutions that included having a tape delay of the proceedings or holding them in secret. In the opinion released Friday, the majority wrote “On the one hand, the court is strongly adverse to the idea of closing the courtroom to the public; our long tradition is to render public decisions based on public arguments, both oral and written. On the other hand, we must uphold the John Doe secrecy orders.”
Instead of oral arguments, justices will rely on briefs filed in the case.
Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Justice David Prosser dissented in the decision. Abrahamson wrote in her opinion that “Although it would not be free from difficulty, oral argument is legally and practically possible,” while Prosser took the position that they have the authority to close the courtroom to maintain the secrecy of the John Doe proceedings.
Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, who faces reelection on April 7, did not participate. She has previously cited a conflict of interest in the case.