Wisconsin Republican leader won’t back down from impeachment threat against Supreme Court justice
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican leader of Wisconsin’s Assembly refused to back down on Thursday from possibly impeaching a newly elected liberal state Supreme Court justice over her refusal to step aside in a redistricting case, even after two former conservative justices advised him against the unprecedented move.
“No, absolutely not,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said when asked at a news conference if impeachment of Justice Janet Protasiewicz was off the table.
“If they decide to inject their own political bias inside the process and not follow the law, we have the ability to go to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Vos said, “and we also have the ability to hold her accountable to the voters of Wisconsin.”
The Wisconsin Democratic Party said the comments are a signal that Republicans are backing off from impeaching Protasiewicz “by moving the goalposts in an effort to save face.”
Vos first floated the possibility of impeachment in August after Protasiewicz called the Republican-drawn legislative boundary maps “rigged” and “unfair” during her campaign. Impeachment has drawn bipartisan opposition and two former conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court justices, asked by Vos to investigate the possibility, told him in the past week it was not warranted. Vos refused to say what advice he got from the third retired justice.
Protasiewicz refused to recuse from the redistricting lawsuit last week and sided with the liberal majority in accepting the lawsuit. Vos suggested Thursday that impeachment may hinge on how Protasiewicz rules on that case.
“She said she’s going to follow the law,” Vos said. “The most important aspect of the law is following past precedent.”
Vos also said Protasiewicz’s acceptance of nearly $10 million from the Wisconsin Democratic Party would unduly influence her ruling.
Protasiewicz last week rejected those arguments, noting that other justices have accepted campaign cash and not recused from cases. She also noted that she never promised or pledged to rule on the redistricting lawsuit in any way. A state judiciary disciplinary panel has rejected several complaints against Protasiewicz that alleged she violated the judicial code of ethics with comments she made during the campaign.
With Vos tying impeachment to how Protasiewicz rules on redistricting, it’s nearly certain that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers would be able to name a replacement if the Legislature removes Protasiewicz from office or she resigns.
A special election is only triggered if a vacancy occurs before Dec. 1. Oral arguments in the redistricting case are set for Nov. 21, which makes it nearly certain a ruling won’t come until after the special election deadline.
That means if the Legislature moves to impeach and convict Protasiewicz, they would do it knowing that Evers would name her successor — who would certainly be another liberal.
Other justices, both conservative and liberal, have spoken out in the past on issues that could come before the court, although not always during their run for office like Protasiewicz did. Current justices have also accepted campaign cash from political parties and others with an interest in court cases and haven’t recused themselves. But none of them has faced threats of impeachment.
The legislative electoral maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011 cemented the party’s majorities, which now stand at 64-35 in the Assembly and a 22-11 supermajority in the Senate. Republicans adopted maps last year that were similar to the existing ones.
Wisconsin’s Assembly districts rank among the most gerrymandered nationally, with Republicans routinely winning far more seats than would be expected based on their average share of the vote, according to an Associated Press analysis.
Both lawsuits ask that all 132 state lawmakers be up for election in 2024 in newly drawn districts.
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