Wisconsin Republicans are already thinking of impeachment for the state’s newest Supreme Court justice, Insider reported. Janet Protasiewicz handily won her seat in April on a platform heavily focused on abortion rights, giving the court a 4-3 liberal majority after a long period of conservative control. But it’s her criticism of the state’s legislative maps — which she called “rigged” during the campaign, and have given the GOP a lock on power in Madison — that have earned Republican ire.
The GOP argument is that Protasiewicz “prejudged” a case challenging the state’s legislative maps when she called them “rigged,” Ian Millhiser wrote for Vox. But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that candidates for office have a right to “publicly state their positions on contentious legal issues.” The real point here, though, is that knocking Protasiewicz off the court would almost certainly leave the maps in place, making the GOP impeachment push a “plan that could entrench their rule forever.”
In fact, impeachment would only be successful because of Wisconsin’s gerrymandering, Philip Bump wrote at The Washington Post. Republicans have “disproportionate power” in the Wisconsin Legislature because of aggressive map drawing, and now they’re “using that disproportionate power in consideration of impeachment and removal.” In essence, gerrymandered power is being used to defend gerrymandered power. And that raw display is drawing national attention.
‘Severe threat to democracy’
Impeaching Protasiewicz would be the “most direct, severe threat to democracy in our state history,” Wisconsin State Sen. Melissa Agard, a Democrat, wrote in Madison’s The Cap Times. The impeachment push comes “before the new justice has even heard one case from the bench.” Wisconsin is a “purple state” that is “increasingly blue.” Impeachment “would overturn an election and the will of the people.”
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The impeachment threat “amounts to extortion,” Richard Niess wrote at the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s a threat that Protasiewicz will lose her job unless she does as the GOP-controlled legislature wishes, proof that “Wisconsin’s toxic gerrymandering destroys our democracy.” Joel McNally at Milwaukee’s Shepherd Express agreed, but argued that impeachment would only “succeed in alienating the large majority of Wisconsin voters who elected Protasiewicz.” Republicans trying to stave off rising Democratic sentiment in the state would “just be delaying the inevitable.”
Protasiewicz’s comments about “rigged” maps were “entirely inconsistent with the neutral administration of law,” Dan O’Donnell wrote for The MacIver Institute. But it’s not an impeachable offense under the Wisconsin Constitution. Republicans might proceed anyway because “it’s precisely what Democrats would do if given the chance, right?” The GOP should still try to consider the “wisdom in maintaining the moral, legal and constitutional high ground.”
‘Unbreakable hold on state government’
“If Republicans move ahead with this impeachment, it will be for one reason only: because they think they can,” Michelle Goldberg wrote for The New York Times. But the Wisconsin GOP hasn’t entirely gerrymandered itself out of accountability; 12 Republican members of the lower chamber and six in the Wisconsin Senate represent districts won by Protasiewicz. “We’ll soon find out whether Wisconsin Republicans think they have to pretend to care.”
“The gerrymandering alone undermines Wisconsin’s status as a democracy,” Jamelle Bouie wrote, also at The New York Times. If a majority of voters cannot elect a government of their choosing “then it’s hard to say whether they actually govern themselves.” Protasiewicz won a “double-digit victory” to obtain the Wisconsin Supreme Court seat that Republicans are now threatening to strip from her. That’s dangerous. “If successful, Wisconsin Republicans will have created, in effect, an unbreakable hold on state government.”
The fight isn’t over yet. Democrats are planning a $4 million “ad blitz” targeting GOP lawmakers considering impeachment, Fox News reported. “Republicans are holding a political nuclear football,” said Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler. Meanwhile, The Associated Press pointed out that Wisconsin’s conservative justices have often failed to recuse themselves in situations where they had a potential conflict of interest yet faced no threat of impeachment. “If they don’t like the way the situation is now,” said one observer, “all they have to do is look at their own behavior.”