Democrats Prepare Wisconsin Battle Against Liberal Judge’s Impeachment


Democrats in Wisconsin have launched a $4 million effort to defend a newly elected liberal judge on the state Supreme Court who is facing the threat of impeachment by Republicans.

Justice Janet Protasiewicz won election to a 10-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in April. Her victory by an 11-point margin gives liberals a 4-3 majority in the court, ending a 15-year run with conservatives in control.

The unprecedented effort to impeach and remove Protasiewicz before she has even heard a case comes as the court is being asked to throw out Republican-drawn legislative electoral maps that cemented the party’s control in the Legislature.

Top Republican lawmakers have talked about impeaching Protasiewicz if she doesn’t recuse herself from the case, with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos alleging Protasiewicz prejudged redistricting cases because of comments she made during her campaign.

Judge Janet Protasiewicz (right) speaks onstage during the live recording of “Pod Save America,” hosted by WisDems at the Barrymore Theater on March 18, 2023, in Madison, Wisconsin. Democrats have established a fund to defend the newly elected judgewho faces impeachment.
Jeff Schear/Getty Images for WisDems

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin and other aligned groups unveiled an initiative called Defend Justice on Wednesday that aims to “fight back” against the threat to impeach and remove Protasiewicz.

“Republicans will do anything to stay in power, including an unlawful threat to impeach, convict, and remove Justice Janet Protasiewicz,” Wisconsin Democrats wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Wednesday alongside a link to the Defend Justice website. “We need *you* on our team—take action TODAY and stand with us.”

Although Protasiewicz frequently spoke about redistricting during the campaign, calling the current Republican-friendly maps “unfair” and “rigged,” she did not pledge to rule one way or another. She was also outspoken about abortion rights during her campaign, but did not state how she would rule on the state’s abortion law.

On Tuesday, she released a letter from the Wisconsin Judicial Commission to The Associated Press that had informed her that several complaints about comments she had made during the campaign had been dismissed without action.

The commission is tasked with investigating judges and court commissioners who are accused of violating the state’s judicial code of conduct.

“All this does is prove that Justice Protasiewicz and the Democrat Party are one and the same,” Vos said in a statement.

“The timing of yesterday’s order from Justice Protasiewicz, and the Democrat party’s immediate press conference announcing $4 million dollars in attack ads supporting Justice Protasiewicz’s involvement, is further indication of coordination between the two.

“We fully expect Justice Protasiewicz will recuse herself from handling a case where she has pre-decided the outcome and the Democrat party is fully involved.”

Ben Wikler, the chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, called the threat to impeach the judge a “desperate, unconstitutional, and obscene threat to democracy.”

In other posts on X, Wikler noted that although Republicans have not acted yet, they have enough votes in both chambers to impeach and convict Protasiewicz.

“Most of the public has no idea what the Republican Legislature is plotting. So we’re launching a DEFEND JUSTICE campaign to fight back,” Wikler wrote.

“It takes a simple majority vote of the State Assembly—50 of the 99 members—to impeach someone. Robin Vos’ GOP caucus has, thanks to gerrymandering, 64 members. They could lose 14 votes and still impeach.”

That would mean Protasiewicz is suspended until after a trial in the state Senate. “Conviction would take a supermajority of senators present—so if all 33 senators voted, all 22 Republicans would have to support conviction. Every GOP senator could be the deciding vote,” Wikler wrote in a post.

The Assembly Democratic Caucus and the Senate Democratic Caucus have condemned the threats from Republicans, saying in a statement on Wednesday that they are “united in our opposition to this anti-democratic abuse of power.”

Legislative Republicans “have threatened to nullify more than a million votes for a duly elected justice in order to hold onto their power and deny Wisconsinites access to reproductive rights,” Assembly Democratic leader Greta Neubauer said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We will do everything in our power to prevent this egregious effort to undermine our democracy.”

Vos and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin have been contacted for further comment via email.


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