The Republican leader of Wisconsin’s Assembly late last week threatened impeachment proceedings against liberal state Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz if she doesn’t recuse herself from cases involving Wisconsin’s legislative maps, which GOP lawmakers have aggressively gerrymandered to give themselves what experts say is an illegal electoral advantage.
In a radio interview on Friday, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos accused Protasiewicz of “prejudging” the outcome of a potential case challenging the legality of Wisconsin’s maps.
Earlier this month, a coalition of voting rights groups and law firms filed a lawsuit over the maps, appealing directly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court to strike them down.
Protasiewicz, whose election victory earlier this year ended conservatives’ 15-year dominance of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, was critical of the state’s maps during her campaign, calling them “rigged” and arguing they “do not reflect people in this state.”
“I don’t think you could sell any reasonable person that the maps are fair,” Protasiewicz said in January. “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.”
During his Friday interview, Vos characterized Protasiewicz’s comments as sufficient grounds for recusal, claiming that they show she can’t be an “impartial observer” on cases related to the state’s maps.
But critics see Vos’ suggestion of impeachment proceedings as an anti-democratic threat by a supermajority worried about losing its grip on power.
Republicans have controlled the Wisconsin Legislature for 12 consecutive years, and they have the two-thirds majority necessary to convict in the Senate. Just a majority vote in the Assembly is needed to impeach.
As the Associated Press reported Sunday, the Wisconsin Constitution “requires legislative districts ‘to consist of contiguous territory,'” but “many nonetheless contain sections of land that are not actually connected.”
“The resulting map looks a bit like Swiss cheese, where some districts are dotted with small neighborhood holes assigned to different representatives,” the outlet added. “Wisconsin’s Assembly districts rank among the most tilted nationally, with Republicans routinely winning far more seats than would be expected based on their average share of the vote.”
Stephen Wolf of Daily Kos Elections wrote in response to Vos’ comments that “Republicans are threatening to use their gerrymandered supermajority to remove the newly elected Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who could strike down their gerrymanders.”
“Gerrymandering let the GOP win exactly two-thirds in the state Senate in 2022 despite Dems winning most statewide races,” Wolf noted.
Even if the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate doesn’t ultimately succeed in convicting Protasiewicz, her impeachment in the Assembly would, under Wisconsin law, prevent her from hearing cases until her acquittal, observed Michael Li, redistricting and voting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice.
“If the Senate drags its feet in holding a trial, that might be enough to leave gerrymandered maps in place for 2024,” Li warned.
The Campaign Legal Center (CLC), Law Forward, the Election Law Clinic at Harvard Law School, Stafford Rosenbaum LLP, and Arnold & Porter argued in a petition filed with the Wisconsin Supreme Court earlier this month that the state’s legislative maps are “extreme partisan gerrymanders that violate multiple provisions of the Wisconsin Constitution.”
The lawsuit demands a redrawing of legislative maps and special elections for state Senate seats that wouldn’t otherwise be up for reelection until 2026.
“The legislators elected in November 2022 took office in unconstitutionally configured districts,” the lawsuit states. “That constitutional infirmity has persisted for over a decade now, and Wisconsinites have suffered under this unconstitutional system for long enough. Legislators have no right to complete a term of office that was unconstitutionally obtained.”