Search warrants were overly broad in scope, and widely publicized raids to execute them may have been unconstitutional, state Supreme Court justices wrote Thursday in a ruling to halt a secret investigation into campaign spending by conservative groups backing Gov. Scott Walker during the 2012 recall election.

A majority of justices also found the judicial appointment of a special prosecutor to head the John Doe investigation, Francis Schmitz, was invalid under state law.

Justice Michael Gableman, writing for the majority of Supreme Court justices, said the warrants created a “dragnet” resulting in law-enforcement seizure of “wholly irrelevant information, such as retirement income statements, personal financial account information, personal letters, and family photos.”

“The breadth of the documents gathered ... is amazing,” Gableman wrote.

Justice Annette Ziegler went further in her concurring opinion. She suggested raids to execute some of the warrants may have violated the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

The raids, in which FBI and other law enforcement officials conducted early-morning searches of the homes of top Walker aides and others, were the subject of considerable media attention.

“These pre-dawn searches could raise questions as to whether they would pass constitutional muster,” Ziegler wrote.

Justice David Prosser, in an opinion with which a majority of justices concurred, found the appointment of Schmitz by Reserve Judge Barbara Kluka to be invalid.

On that basis, he found the subpoenas and search warrants issued by Schmitz to be invalid as well.

Prosser’s opinion found the Schmitz appointment didn’t meet the conditions set forth in state law for the appointment of a special prosecutor.

Prosser also dismissed Kluka’s rationale that appointing a special prosecutor would “eliminate any appearance of impropriety” on the part of the district attorneys who, as partisan elected officials, initiated the investigation.

Justice Shirley Abrahamson dissented in part from the court’s decision.

Abrahamson wrote in her opinion that the breadth of the warrants and the constitutionality of their execution were not among the issues the court was asked to consider.

“The parties did not raise these issues and this court did not seek comment on them,” Abrahamson wrote.

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Mark Sommerhauser covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.