Court moves deliberations behind closed doors

The Wisconsin Supreme Court chamber.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has voted to move deliberations over rules it operates under behind closed doors.

The vote this week came amid hostility that has been present in the court in recent years, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The state Supreme Court has always conducted its arguments on cases in public and its deliberations about them behind closed doors. But in 1999, the state high court became one of the first to hold its administrative meetings publicly. In recent years, the meetings would be shown live on the WisconsinEye Public Affairs Network, where justices discussed issues that often pertained to court policies.

The court voted five years ago to only hold public deliberations if they’re about proposed changes to the court’s formal rules.

Now, the court majority has voted to stop holding those discussions regarding the court’s own rules in public. That means when the court next takes up its ethics policies, it’ll do so privately.

Justice Michael Gableman, who voted in favor of the change, said it was time to end the experiment of holding public meetings.

“It is time for us to return to how a court actually operates,” Gableman said. He then read from a 1999 memo on holding public meetings.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, who voted against the private meetings, asked where Gableman got the memo before standing up and reaching over to attempt to see it.

Gableman reacted to the gesture by making a veiled reference to a 2011 incident in which then-Justice David Prosser put his hands on Bradley’s neck during an argument.

“Ann, I take great exception to you attempting to reach over and physically come over to me, something which you complained about when another justice did that to you,” Gableman said. “I am appalled by your conduct.”

Roggensack reacted by saying, “I think everybody’s got their oar in the water, and we’re not making progress in any way that’s judicial.”

She joined with Gableman, Rebecca Bradley, Daniel Kelly and Annette Ziegler in voting to end the public meetings. Liberal Justices Shirley Abrahamson and Ann Walsh Bradley voted against the measure.

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