Wisconsin prosecutors on Tuesday tried to persuade a federal appeals court to let them to resume their investigation of Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election campaign, in a case that touches on broader issues about just what constitutes constitutionally-protected political activity. In more than 90 minutes of questioning, three judges on a panel at the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago didn’t give a clear indication of which way they might be leaning. But two of the three repeatedly broached questions about whether federal judges should intervene in what appeared to be a state matter. When it comes to federal courts dictating to states about criminal investigations or anything else, Judge Frank Easterbook said, what precedent demands is, “Be modest. Be careful.” The arguments in a downtown Chicago building took place two months before Walker — a Republican seen as a potential 2016 candidate for president — faces a closely contested re-election against Democrat Mary Burke.
Walker made a national name for himself when he took on public sector unions in 2011. That fight led to the 2012 vote to recall Walker, which he won. The recall battle ultimately led to the legal dispute now in the Chicago court.
No one has been charged in the investigation and prosecutors have said Walker isn’t a target. Republicans have dismissed it as a partisan witch hunt against conservative groups, while Democrats say it has revealed serious questions about possible illegal activity by Walker and his backers.