In an unusual move, a Dane County judge has refused to dismiss a voter ID case as ordered by the state Supreme Court, writing that he believed doing so would violate his oath to uphold the state constitution. Instead of entering an order to terminate the case, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess wrote in a brief order Thursday that he was instead stepping aside and having another judge dismiss the case. “The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ordered this court to deliver the coup de grace to this case by dismissing plaintiff’s Amended Complaint on remand. However, doing so would violate my oath to ‘support … the constitution of the State of Wisconsin,'” Niess wrote, quoting from the oath that judges must take under state law. “Accordingly, I recuse.” Niess did not return a call Tuesday. The case has been reassigned to Judge Ellen Berz, who has not yet acted on the case.
The spat does not appear to have any effect on the status of the voter ID law. That law, approved in 2011, was blocked for 21/2 years because of a wave of litigation, but was reinstated this month after a series of rulings in state and federal courts.
By taking such a stance, Niess risks being disciplined by judicial ethics officials, said Charles Geyh, a law professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. Geyh has written on judicial ethics and judicial disqualification. “Defying higher courts is not something judges are supposed to do,” he said.
He called Niess’ move “kind of an act of civil disobedience” and “a pretty defiant act.” The move creates a conundrum because people should be praised for acts of conscience, but at the same time judges are duty-bound to follow the orders of higher courts, Geyh said.
Full Article: Dane County judge refuses Supreme Court order on voter ID.