A conservative Milwaukee-based law firm is threatening to sue the city of Madison unless it rescinds racial quotas for membership on a recently created Police Civilian Oversight Board.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a notice of claim against the city Wednesday on behalf of seven Madison residents, saying requirements that membership of the 11-member board be at least 50% Black and include Asian, Latino and Native American people are unconstitutional and run counter to the city’s own nondiscrimination ordinance.
“While it may represent the current zeitgeist, the city of Madison’s decision to insert racial quotas and classifications into law violates the Constitution’s ban on racial discrimination and equal protection before the law,” WILL president Rick Esenberg said in a statement. “The city of Madison may think they are advancing racial progress, but this policy is, in effect, cloaking deeply regressive policies of racial discrimination.”
The creation of the Civilian Oversight Board and an associated police auditor position was overwhelmingly approved by the City Council in early September. They were the culmination of years of work by activists to increase oversight of police in the wake of a string fatal police shootings, as well as an independent consultant’s report that deemed the department “far from ‘a Department in crisis,’” whose use of force was “limited in volume and primarily minor in nature.”
The board and auditor do not have the power to hire, fire or discipline police — tasks reserved under state law for the city’s Police and Fire Commission — but the new oversight structure can conduct independent investigations of Madison police, make referrals to the PFC, prepare an annual report on the city’s police chief and conduct community outreach on police matters.
Madison City Attorney Michael Haas noted in August that case law prohibiting racial quotas relates to “educational and employment opportunities” and as such, “we cannot conclude for certain that a court would extend similar analysis to such requirements for a Civilian Oversight Board.”
“The purpose of ensuring a diverse police oversight board” is “to enhance overall public safety by ensuring that the Board includes representation from historically disadvantaged communities and those who have experienced interactions with (the Madison Police Department),” he wrote. “Also, similar provisions are included in ordinances of other communities.”
WILL attorney Dan Lennington said he’s never heard of such similar provisions in other communities and pointed to case law that requires any race-based solution be narrowly tailored to address a specific problem. He pointed to school busing as one example in which government-mandated racial diversity has been upheld by the courts.
“They can’t use race as a disqualifier,” he said, and the question the city has to answer now that the City Council has approved racial quotas for the COB is, “How has the (City) Council been racist?” He said the city will have to explain to a judge how the (Civilian Oversight Board) quotas are “the only way that we can solve our problem.”
One of the Madison residents WILL is representing, local conservative blogger David Blaska, who is white, applied for a spot on the board and was rejected.
Lennington said it’s “not uncommon for employers to strive for diversity,” and that such an “aspiration” has been deemed constitutional.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s office declined to comment Wednesday, referring the Wisconsin State Journal to Haas, who did not respond to a request for comment. Council President Sheri Carter did not respond to a request for comment, and neither did the three members of the work group that created the Civilian Oversight Board ordinance: Alds. Rebecca Kemble and Shiva Bidar, and former Ald. Donna Moreland.
The 11-member Civilian Oversight Board is appointed by the mayor and City Council from nominations for nine of the positions made by a rotating list of community groups. Under the ordinance, at least one member must be Black, one Asian, one Latinx, one Native American and one from the LGBTQ community. At least one member must have experience in one or more of three fields: mental health, youth advocacy, and alcohol and drug abuse. At least one member must have an arrest or conviction record.
As part of approving the ordinance, the City Council adopted the report of the work group that called for at least half of the board’s members to be Black.
Madison ordinance states: “It is the official policy of the City of Madison to provide equal employment and promotional opportunities and equal access to public services for all persons from all segments of the Madison community without regard to their race, religion, color, age, marital status, disability, sex, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity, hereinafter referred to as affected or under-represented groups.”
Now that the WILL has filed its notice of claim, the city will have 120 days to respond before WILL decides whether to file suit.
Year in review: The top Madison-area stories of 2020
It started out well enough. The Badgers were making a late-in-coming run at the Final Four. Hometown insurance behemoth American Family announced it was boosting its starting minimum wage to $20 an hour. Madison East Siders welcomed a new Pinney branch library.
The first two and a half months of the year feel like a different era, when news of a strange new virus infecting people in China was safely tucked away in the back pages of the newspaper and the heart-breaking images of a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of a 46-year-old Black man had yet to go viral.
Then came March and successive waves of closures, cancellations, lockdowns, furloughs, layoffs, infections and deaths. If the subsequent uprisings over the killing of George Floyd weren't enough to remind America that it has plenty of work to do to overcome racism, the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha tragically emphasized the point. And a divisive presidential election carried the tone of the year at the end.
While it may not be a year to look back on with particular fondness, 2020 no doubt is one to remember. Here's a look back at some of the top stories in the Madison area as they occurred.
It marked the fourth consecutive loss in the Rose Bowl for UW, and the first time since 2013 that the program lost its final two games of the year.
Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said Sunday the victim who officers found in an apartment at 1905 McKenna Blvd. shortly after 2:30 p.m. Saturday was a 20-year-old African American male.
With the Green Bay defense failing to lay a hand on 49ers running back Raheem Mostert for much of the first half and the Aaron Rodgers-led offense committing two turnovers and failing to convert a third down yet again during a scoreless first 30 minutes, the Packers dug themselves a 27-0 halftime deficit on their way to a demoralizing 37-20 loss.
Gutierrez, superintendent of the school district in Seguin, Texas, was announced Friday as the Madison School Board's pick to lead the district.
The person returned to Dane County Regional Airport after a trip to Beijing Jan. 30 and went directly to UW Hospital's emergency room, officials said.
Officers found the victim, believed to be an adult male, in the 100 block of North Blair Street about 3:45 p.m. Saturday after receiving a report that a person had been shot.
This weekend's performances at the Alliant Energy Center will be the last with elephants in Dane County as a contract between the circus and the venue expires.
Tony Evers said he vetoed the legislation, which uses surplus revenue, because it doesn't invest in the state's schools.
Despite no Wisconsin cheeses finishing in the final top three, state producers dominated the competition, earning 45 gold medals out of 132 categories.
This decision is unprecedented for Wisconsin's largest university and taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus.
The closure order, to take effect no later than 5 p.m. on March 18, affects nearly 1 million Wisconsin children in grades K-12 in public and private schools.
David A. Kahl, 53, is charged with first-degree intentional homicide.
Tony Evers’ “safer at home” order represents a shift from the governor's position last week, when he said he did not plan on issuing such an order.
A jogger saw a man and a woman lying in a ditch at about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Most voting locations saw few lines and smooth operations. But other places, notably Milwaukee, experienced significant delays, chaos and conditions that made it impossible for some voters to cast a ballot.
Jill Karofsky's win over Dan Kelly cuts the court's conservative majority to 4-3, giving liberals a chance to take back control in 2023.
The U.S. Air Force announced the final selection of the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing, capping more than three years of study and deep community division over the planes, which come with the promise of jobs and new construction but also noise and pollution.
While applauded as a good first step, Democratic members, as well as public safety and health officials, have criticized the bill for not allocating more state funding to respond to the pandemic.
For 30 years, "Ms. Milele" was the publisher of UMOJA magazine and a prominent leader in Madison's black community. She was "short in stature but mighty in force."
Free community testing for COVID-19 started at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison on Monday morning.
Gov. Tony Evers and legislative Republicans will need to work quickly to come up with a replacement plan.
Authorities identified the victim of a Friday night homicide as Nang Yee Lee, who died Monday. The suspect is hospitalized.
The Vilas Zoo, Goodman Pool, beaches and movie theaters are among the places not opening yet.
There were signs early Sunday that the violence was spreading into other parts of the city.
"It’s clear they have important process issues to work out," the candidate said.
Protesters tore down statues of Forward and a Union Civil War colonel, assaulted a state senator and set a small fire in a city building Downtown on Tuesday night after the arrest of a Black activist seen causing a disturbance in a restaurant earlier in the day.
School Board President Gloria Reyes said the decision to pull police from Madison's four main high schools is effective immediately.
Madison police are investigating a shooting Tuesday night at a Far East Side motel that left one man with life-threatening injuries.
The Madison School Board chose Carlton Jenkins, a superintendent of a suburban Twin Cities school district, over another finalist for the job. He starts Aug. 4.
As a Dane County public health order requiring face coverings in all indoor spaces outside the home took effect Monday, businesses offered mixed views on mandates, though for many retailers it was business as (the new) usual.
There was no update on the second victim from the shooting at Schroeder Road and Chapel Hill Road Saturday night.
Travis M. Christianson, 44, is tentatively charged with first-degree intentional homicide.
Republican President Donald Trump also has caused controversy for saying he might deliver acceptance speech at White House.
The girl was in a car that was struck by gunfire late Tuesday morning on East Washington Avenue.
The conference decided — after meetings between presidents and athletic directors, and outcry from players, coaches, politicians and fans — to cancel the fall sports season and will attempt to move football to the spring semester.
"The video that came out of Kenosha is absolutely horrific. I don’t understand how people can watch it and not be here," one Madison protester said.
The fifth-seeded Heat finished off an upset of the NBA’s best regular-season team Tuesday, topping the Milwaukee Bucks 103-94 in Game 5 of their East semifinal series — while Giannis Antetokounmpo, the league’s reigning MVP, couldn’t play because of a sprained right ankle.
UW-Madison is pausing in-person instruction for at least two weeks and quarantining more than 2,200 students living in two dorms.
After 69 years as one of the leading attractions in the Wisconsin Dells area, the Tommy Bartlett Show announced Wednesday that it would close permanently after losing the 2020 season to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Police are not recommending charges against Althea Bernstein, saying there is a difference between someone trying to deceive law enforcement and not being able to corroborate a report of a crime.
The alternate care facility at State Fair Park in West Allis may begin taking patients Thursday.
The two victims, ages 17 and 18, who were taken to a local hospital, suffered significant injuries but were expected to survive, acting Police Chief Vic Wahl said Saturday night.
A small crowd Downtown Saturday morning before the race was called turned into hundreds of people honking horns, cheering and waving signs after Biden was declared the winner, while some Trump supporters turned out in protest.
"We understand the eyes of the world will be on these Wisconsin counties over the next few weeks," Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe said.
Isai Morocho, 16, was “a caring friend and family member with a ready smile and great sense of humor,” his principal said.
The jet from the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing at Truax Field in Madison crashed Tuesday night. The status of the pilot remains unknown.
St. Mary's and Meriter expect to get vaccine soon.
The flurry of activity caps off a tumultuous post-election saga in Wisconsin that has now concluded.
A look back at the year 2020 through the lens of Wisconsin State Journal photographers John Hart, Amber Arnold and Steve Apps