New State Judge Hasn't Heard a Case, Faces Impeachment

Wisconsin Republicans say Janet Protasiewicz is tight with Democrats, must recuse in legislative map case
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 7, 2023 1:10 PM CDT
New State Judge Hasn't Heard a Case, Faces Impeachment
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz.   (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Wisconsin Republicans are threatening to impeach a state Supreme Court justice before she's heard a case. Justice Janet Protasiewicz won her April election by 11 points, per the AP. Her win gave liberals a majority on the court, boosting hopes among Democrats that it will overturn the state's 1849 abortion ban and throw out the Republican legislative electoral maps. Days after she took office in August, for example, Democratic-friendly groups filed two lawsuits asking the Supreme Court to toss out the Republican-drawn legislative maps. GOP leaders quickly asked that Protasiewicz recuse herself, pointing to the nearly $10 million she received from the Democratic Party and to comments she made during the campaign that the maps were "unfair" and "rigged."

Republicans argue that she has prejudged the case and can't fairly hear it. The same complaints against her were lodged during her campaign with the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, which investigates judges. That panel rejected the complaints. Democrats pushed back against impeachment threats on Wednesday, announcing a $4 million public relations campaign against GOP members making them. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has been the most outspoken advocate for possible impeachment, said the expensive campaign only further showed that Protasiewicz and the Democratic Party "are one and the same."

If Protasiewicz doesn't recuse, Vos argues, then Republicans will look into impeachment. Those threats were denounced by Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler as "political extortion." The AP notes that the state GOP and other conservative groups have given campaign cash to other sitting justices, and they're not recusing themselves on cases involving donors. All but one sitting justice—liberal Ann Walsh Bradley—have received contributions from a party at the national, state, or county level, according to data from Wisconsin's campaign finance system and an analysis by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks campaign spending.

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In Wisconsin, there is no requirement that justices step down from hearing cases involving campaign donors. Republican Assembly Majority Leader Tyler August, when asked Thursday if he thought justices who have received money from the Republican Party should recuse themselves from the redistricting cases, tried to draw a distinction with Protasiewicz. "She has clearly prejudged the case," August said. "We're talking about this case, this justice, and I'll leave it at that." Protasiewicz is scheduled to hear arguments in her first case before the court next week.

(More Wisconsin stories.)

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