Wisconsin’s John Doe case shows how dangerous and wrong progressives are when they mock conservatives and libertarians’ ‘eternal vigilance’ against state intrusion.
Three years ago, a group of ambitious and partisan district attorneys convened a special kind of investigation to target and punish conservatives. This week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that investigation was unconstitutional and unmoored from both reason and law. The legal theories underlying the Wisconsin high court’s decision are important, but before we consider them, we must recognize the human cost of this litigation and the politics that animated public officials’ attacks on conservatives for engaging in free speech.
Some district attorneys in Wisconsin were disappointed by the failure of a prior John Doe investigation to derail Wisconsin’s union reform law, incensed by the unsuccessful recall election of union-busting Gov. Scott Walker, and cognizant that Walker’s next election campaign was about to start.
Unlike the normal criminal investigative process, however, these district attorneys employed Wisconsin’s so-called John Doe law, which grants extreme power to a special investigator to compel evidence and—more importantly—keep his investigation secret from targets and from the public. Their legal theory in this case was that Walker and other candidates had illegally coordinated their campaigns with outside issue-advocacy groups.
Like so many villains, the John Doe II investigators went about their dirty business under cover of darkness. Nighttime raids by SWAT-equipped police squads turned homes and lives upside down. Computers and cellphones and all the personal documents and private information contained therein were seized and thereafter withheld from their proper owners. From the outside groups, investigators demanded membership lists and financial information. For all the targeted victims, the raids and subpoenas came with a sharp, horrifying warning: tell no one.