Connick v. Thompson

by Kieran Healy on April 2, 2011

J.K. Galbraith remarked that conservatism was engaged in a long search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. But that quest may sometimes become boring, or perhaps too difficult. Not to worry, because occasions to be straightforwardly vicious are more easily found, if you have the taste for it. Its spiteful tone aside, in substance Connick v. Thompson seems to be a Lord Denning Moment for the U.S. Supreme Court. The conservative majority preferred to affirm an obvious wrong rather than face the appalling vista of a brutal and corrupt justice system. To be fair to the system, it’s worse than that. Once the initial wrongdoing came to trial a jury, the district court, and the 5th circuit (twice) all decided the other way. It’s only when we get to Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, Alito, and Kennedy that the system chose to further institutionalize prosecutorial immunity. Stitch-ups should be seamless: if someone could pull at a stray thread, the whole thing might unravel, after all.

Academic Freedom and Open Records

by Harry on April 2, 2011

For those interested, here is our Chancellor’s statement on the Cronon affair:

Members of the campus community,

Two weeks ago UW-Madison received an open records request from Stephan Thompson, deputy executive director of the state’s Republican Party, for email records of Professor Bill Cronon.

Professor Cronon is the Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas Research Professor of History, Geography and Environmental Studies at UW-Madison. He is one of the university’s most celebrated and respected scholars, teachers, mentors and citizens. I am proud to call him a colleague.

The implications of this case go beyond Bill Cronon. When Mr. Thompson made his request, he was exercising his right under Wisconsin’s public records law both to make such a request and to make it without stating his motive. Neither the request nor the absence of a stated motive seemed particularly unusual. We frequently receive public records requests with apparently political motives, from both the left and the right, and every position in between. I announced that the university would comply with the law and, as we do in all cases, apply the kind of balancing test that the law allows, taking such things as the rights to privacy and free expression into account. We have done that analysis and will release the records later today that we believe are in compliance with state law.

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