Stacking the Deck Against Democracy in Wisconsin

Photo Source Fibonacci Blue | CC BY 2.0

The power grab by Wisconsin Republicans to limit the incoming authority of the Democratic Attorney General and Governor is about pettiness and being a sore loser.  But it is not the only instance of such pettiness–Michigan too is experiencing this, as did North Carolina a few years ago when the Democratic governor ousted the Republican. Pettiness seems to be de rigueur, inspired by Donald Trump’s brand of politics, violating two norms, one informal, the other constitutional.

Pettiness and being a sore loser is not a unique feature of contemporary American politics–it tradition goes back perhaps as early as 1800. Then, when Thomas Jefferson and his fellow Democrats took control of the White House and Congress and ousted John Adams and the Federalists, the latter retaliated with a series of late minute acts that included judgeships to stack the  courts. This resulted in the appointment by John Adams of a judicial commission to William Marbury, who, while confirmed by the Senate, did not have his judgeship delivered in term and which Thomas Jefferson refused to honor. The dispute resulted in the arguably the most important and famous Supreme Court case in American history–Marbury v. Madison–which established the principles of judicial review, constitutional supremacy, and separation of powers as fundamental values in American law and politics.

The incidents surrounding Marbury are twofold important.  First, the 1800…

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