Never let it be said that Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, the most rigid partisan ever to hold the state’s top law-enforcement position, does not take care of his own.
Van Hollen is the latest official to reject the rule of law in a state where the authoritrian antics of state Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald and Governor Scott Walker have earned comparisons with foreign dictators—and referencing of the state by veteran state legislators as “Fitzwalkerstan.”
On Monday, Van Hollen:
1. Decided not to prosecute a disgraced county prosecutor, former Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz, on criminal charges of sexual assault, personal misconduct and abuse of the public trust when he reportedly sent thirty text messages trying to strike up an affair with a domestic abuse victim while he prosecuted her ex-boyfriend on a strangulation charge. The then 50-year-old district attorney sent 26-year-old Stephanie Van Groll messages referring to her as “a hot nymph” and asking if she was “the kind of girl that likes secret contact with an older married DA.” Kratz was forced to resign, but he will not be held to account.
2. Decided—despite the opinions of the legal counsel for the Legislative Reference Bureau, the advice of county and city prosecutors from around the state, and the assessments of leading law professors—that the state constitution and statutes did not need to be respected in the debate over whether Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union power grab (Act 10) can be unilaterally declared to be in force. The Legislative Reference Bureau made moves to prepare for publication of the legislation last week, but Secretary of State Doug La Follette used his authority to put the law’s publication on hold when a judge issued a temporary restraining order barring publication until questions could be reviewed about whether the legislation had been legally enacted. Van Hollen ignored the constitution, the statutes and the judge’s order and simply issued a press release declaring: “Act 10 is now law.”
On Tuesday, Van Hollen sent state lawyers into court with orders to try and remove the many legal barriers to the governor advancing his agenda. They were quickly shot down by appeals court judges and ran into trouble at the circuit court level, as well, since their arguments were so radically at odds with the Constitution and state statutes.
What do these two actions by Van Hollen have in common?
Certainly not a respect for the state constitution.
Certainly not a respect for the rule of law.
Certainly not a respect for the system of checks and balances that gives the third branch of state government—the judiciary—authority to review the legality of acts taken by the executive and legislative branches.
Certainly not Wisconsin’s tradition—maintained by Democratic and Republican attorneys general from the founding of the state—of keeping the Department of Justice above politics.
What these two actions by Van Hollen have in common is this:
Ken Kratz is a Republican who has campaigned with and for Van Hollen.
Scott Walker is a Republican who has campaigned with and for Van Hollen.
J.B. Van Hollen is a Republican who takes care of his political pals, putting party above principle, above the constitution he has sworn an oath to uphold, and above the rule of law that is the essential underpinning of civil society.
In other words, he is serving not as the attorney general of Wisconsin, but of Fitzwalkerstan.