Wisconsin Republicans float the impeachment of a new liberal state Supreme Court justice because the court could toss GOP-friendly legislative maps

Janet Protasiewicz
Janet Protasiewicz, left, was sworn in as a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice on August 1, 2023.AP Photo/Morry Gash
  • Wisconsin Republicans are floating the potential impeachment of state Supreme Court judge Janet Protasiewicz.

  • During her campaign for the seat, Protasiewicz described the GOP-drawn maps as "rigged."

  • Republicans are arguing that Protasiewicz must recuse herself from redistricting cases over her comments.

Even before Janet Protasiewicz was elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, conservatives were disdainful of her criticism of their legislative maps, which they had meticulously crafted to allow them to dominate politics in the otherwise closely contested swing state.

Since 2011, Republicans have had a virtual lock on control of the state legislature due to the gerrymandered maps, which have allowed them to push through a wave of conservative reforms, even moreso when Scott Walker occupied the governor's mansion for eight years.

But Walker in 2018 lost his bid for third term to now-Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, a huge blow to Republicans.

Earlier this year, the possibility of Protasiewicz sitting on the court and turning a conservative-leaning court into one with a liberal majority animated Republicans. And their frustrations ran deeper during the campaign, when she called out the state's election maps as "rigged."

"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," Protasiewicz said during a January campaign forum.

After Protasiewicz easily defeated conservative former Supreme Court justice Daniel Kelly in the April nonpartisan election, there were some early grumblings about impeaching her even before she had been sworn in.

Protasiewicz's win gave the court a 4-3 liberal majority, ending 15 years of conservative control.

And now that Protasiewicz is officially on the court, Republicans have increasingly floated impeaching her, using her past comments about the legislative maps to argue that she should recuse herself from any cases that the court may hear that could effectively force the lines to be redrawn.

Within days of Protasiewicz taking office last month, two lawsuits were filed in court by Democratic-friendly groups seeking to dismantle the legislative maps. Republicans now enjoy a 64-35 majority in the state Assembly and a 22-11 supermajority in the state Senate, despite Wisconsin being a perennial battleground state.

If the court ordered new maps, the power that the GOP has amassed over the past 12 years could quickly collapse given the competitiveness of legislative races throughout the state in the decade prior to the 2010 elections.

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said that he would look into impeaching Protasiewicz if she did not recuse herself from redistricting cases that could benefit Democrats, given that the state Democratic Party gave $10 million to her successful campaign.

To impeach a state official, Republicans would need a majority in the Assembly and a two-thirds supermajority in the state Senate, and they currently have the exact number of senators required to remove a judge impeached by the Assembly. But at the moment, Vos has said that he is simply looking into the impeachment issue.

"I want to do legal research and see if this is unprecedented," he said late last month. "I'm not saying it's definitely happening. But we have to take a look at it."

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson recently told The New York Times that the legislature should impeach Protasiewicz from her post before she could potentially hear any redistricting cases.

"She obviously should recuse herself from any redistricting case, and if she doesn't, the Legislature has the ability" to remove her, he told the newspaper. "I hope they would."

Protasiewicz has previously indicated that she would recuse herself from any redistricting cases filed by the Wisconsin Democratic Party, according to The Associated Press. However, neither of the two lawsuits filed were brought forward by the state party.

The court has not said whether or not it would take up the redistricting cases.

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