Of the three branches of government in our democracy, it has been the executive and legislative branches that are historically known for getting deep into the oftentimes-mucky world of politics.
Carrying their party labels and pushing their side’s political agenda, legislators, presidents and vice presidents are, of course, natural targets for criticism from their opposing party and by extension their opponents’ supporters in the general public.
But, as we know, criticism sometimes slips into nastiness, in extreme cases, even into threats.
There is no justification for threats and personal attacks, a point that Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack made clear in a Christmas Day statement decrying verbal and social media postings against Supreme Court justices Brian Hagedorn, Jill Karofsky and Rebecca Dallet.
Hagedorn, who ran on his conservative credentials, told WISN-TV that he was receiving police protection after receiving voicemails following his siding with the court’s liberal justices in several high-profile cases involving challenges to the 2020 presidential election. Those cases included attempts by President Donald Trump and his attorneys to get the court to nullify more than 220,000 absentee ballots in Milwaukee and Dane counties.
Hagedorn noted that he knew he would “certainly get an earful from some people who disagreed with my votes,” including the president, who took to Twitter on Dec. 21 to criticize Hagedorn.
“But I’m doing the best I can as faithful as I can to follow the law regardless of politics,” Hagedorn told WISN’s Matt Smith. “People increasingly see the courts as an arm of political warfare. And at least from my perspective, I reject that idea.”
Meanwhile, Dallet and Karofsky have been the target of misogynistic and anti-Semitic comments, according to a report in the Wisconsin State Journal.
The newspaper referenced a report by the Times of Israel that quoted online comments calling Karofsky “hooked-nosed” and a “terrorist” who should “have a massive fatal heart attack on live TV.” Another online commenter called Dallet a “traitor” and said “the best case scenario for you is that you actually get a trial. When the people rise up that won’t happen.”
In her Christmas statement, Roggensack noted “Wisconsin has a long history of protecting the right to freely worship, as well as the right to freely speak.
“I acknowledge that all members of the public have the constitutional right to speak in criticism of public servants, which certainly includes all justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court,” said Roggensack. “However, no justice should be threatened or intimidated based on his or her religious beliefs.”
As the last several elections for Wisconsin Supreme Court justice have shown, and as the confirmation hearings in recent years for U.S. Supreme Court justices have also shown, the deeply entrenched political divide in America has wormed its way into the judiciary, which in generations past for the most part seemed to relish being above the fray.
But there is no justification for vile verbal attacks and threats on those serving in the judiciary, or those at any level of public service.
“As we are about to begin a new year, let us all refocus on coming together where possible and treating those with whom we disagree with the respect that each of us would like to receive,” Roggensack said.
To that, we say amen.