Wisconsin Republicans Suggest Impeaching New State Supreme Court Justice
Wisconsin Republicans Suggest Impeaching New State Supreme Court Justice

By Jack Phillips

Wisconsin’s Assembly speaker said that Republicans may impeach recently sworn-in Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz if she doesn’t recuse herself from certain lawsuits.

“If there’s any semblance of honor on the state Supreme Court left, you cannot have a person who runs for the court prejudging a case and being open about it, and then acting on the case as if you’re an impartial observer,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told WSAU. “You cannot have a judge who said, you know, the maps are rigged because she bought into the argument that that’s why we’re winning elections, not the quality of our candidates, and then she sits on that trial acting like she’s gonna listen and hear both sides fairly—that just can’t happen.”

Mrs. Protasiewicz made comments on the campaign trail last year that Wisconsin’s electoral maps were “unfair” and should be replaced, according to Mr. Vos. However, those remarks should immediately disqualify her from such cases.

“They do not reflect people in this state. I don’t think you could sell any reasonable person that the maps are fair,” she said in interviews before the election. “I can’t tell you what I would do on a particular case, but I can tell you my values, and the maps are wrong.”

Mrs. Protasiewicz, a Democrat-backed Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge, beat Republican-backed former state Justice Dan Kelly in an election held in April.

When asked about impeachment during the interview, Mr. Vos said that if Mrs. Protasiewicz does not recuse from cases involving election maps, she would be in violation of her oath of office. That would push lawmakers to consider impeaching her, he said.

“It has to be where they violate the oath of office, right? Justice Protasiewicz who prejudged cases doesn’t recuse herself, right? That could be something we would consider,” he said.

Judge Janet Protasiewicz onstage during the live taping of “Pod Save America,” hosted by WisDems at the Barrymore Theater in Madison, Wis., on March 18, 2023. (Jeff Schear/Getty Images for WisDems)

But, he added, “The idea that we’re going to immediately start an impeachment process is probably too radical,” according to reports. “I want to look and see, does she recuse herself on cases where she is prejudged? That to me is something that is at the oath of office and what she said she was going to do to uphold the Constitution. That, to me, is a serious offense.”

Republicans in Wisconsin hold a 64–35 majority in the Assembly and can vote to impeach an official with a simple majority. Republicans also hold a supermajority in the Senate, which is the minimum required to convict an official.

Should the impeachment go through, Democrat Gov. Tony Evers would have the responsibility to fill her vacancy with an appointment.

Wisconsin Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard, a Democrat, recently said that Mr. Vos’s claims are a threat to “democracy in Wisconsin.

Mrs. Protasiewicz “has been proven to be resoundingly popular with the people of the state of Wisconsin who are fed up with Republican antics,” Ms. Agard said. “These comments that are being made by Speaker Vos, frankly, are threats to the will of the people and to democracy in Wisconsin.”

“Scholars have been studying the district lines in Wisconsin as well as in other states, and it is clear that gerrymandering has a negative effect on democracy,” Ms. Agard said. “That’s simply referring to … what are known facts and indicating a problem here in the state of Wisconsin that needs to be addressed.”

Earlier in August, a coalition of voting rights groups and law firms filed a suit over the election maps, appealing directly to the state Supreme Court to reject them. The  Campaign Legal Center (CLC), Law Forward, the Election Law Clinic at Harvard Law School, Stafford Rosenbaum LLP, and Arnold & Porter, in their petition (pdf), argued that the state’s “current legislative districts are unconstitutional in multiple ways” to give Republicans an advantage.

“They are extreme partisan gerrymanders that violate multiple provisions of the Wisconsin Constitution,” the lawsuit said. “The maps violate the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection because the Legislature, through these maps, has created superior and inferior classes of voters based on viewpoint, subordinating one class to the abusive fiat of the other.”

The lawsuit was filed shortly after Mrs. Protasiewicz was sworn in earlier this month, giving liberals a majority on the state court.

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