Wisconsin Republicans plot a shameless power grab
Voters rejected their Supreme Court candidate. So they're scheming to reject elections.
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What you have to understand at the outset is that Wisconsin Republicans don’t care about democracy. They care about maintaining power by any means necessary.
By and large, they’ve been successful, but the April 2023 election of Janet Protasiewicz to the Wisconsin Supreme Court tipped the balance, giving liberals a 4-3 majority on a court conservatives had controlled since 2008. Now, the state GOP wants to impeach Protasiewicz for the high crime and misdemeanor of … telling voters what her priorities are during the election. But given that those priorities include shoring up abortion rights and getting rid of Wisconsin’s extremely gerrymandered electoral maps, the state GOP is considering drastic measures.
Only 10 days after Protasiewicz was sworn in on August 1, the speaker of the Assembly, Robin Vos, made clear to a conservative talk radio host he was already planning impeachment. Early this month, Vos repeated that threat at a news conference.
To impeach Protasiewicz, a majority of the Wisconsin Assembly would need to vote to impeach. Then, the impeachment moves to the Senate for a trial, where a two-thirds majority is required to convict, which would result in Protasiewicz being removed from office.
In that way, it’s roughly the same as impeachment at the federal level, but Wisconsin’s process contains a provision that really monkey-wrenches things. If the Assembly votes to impeach, Protasiewicz is required to stop doing her job immediately. Then, the state Supreme Court, which normally has seven judges, would functionally drop to six — three liberals and three conservatives, resulting in the possibility of deadlock on nearly every contentious case. So, it doesn’t particularly matter if Vos can’t get the Senate to go along with the Assembly and actually remove Protasiewicz. He can do enough damage just by impeaching her.
Quite simply, Protasiewicz’s victory represents an existential threat to the Wisconsin Republican Party because there are now two lawsuits challenging their gerrymandered maps. Though the state Supreme Court has not even yet said it will take either of the cases, Republicans are terrified their stranglehold on the state will be loosened.
Protasiewicz won easily. Republicans don’t care.
Protasiewicz beat Dan Kelly, who was on the state Supreme Court for four years after getting appointed by then-Gov. Scott Walker, by a resounding 11 points. To give you a sense of what Kelly is all about, consider that when he sent his application to Walker in 2016, he included a writing sample that compared affirmative action to slavery.
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When Kelly ran for the judicial office in 2020, Jill Karofsky, the liberal candidate, beat him by 10 points. Protasiewicz did even better in 2023, beating him by 11. Put another way, the people of Wisconsin decided, twice, to reject Kelly, who wrote that pro-choice groups support abortion rights to “preserve sexual libertinism,” defended Wisconsin’s gerrymandered maps in court in 2012, and reassured insurrection enthusiast David A. Clarke Jr., the former sheriff of Milwaukee County, that he would rule in favor of conservatives if elected.
Kelly laid the groundwork for impeaching Protasiewicz during the election itself. In an interview with PBS Wisconsin, he explained that her public comments about issues should disqualify her, but his lengthy, highly public conservative track record and statements were fine because he’s “commanded by law” and “not infected by personal politics.” Of course, Kelly didn't point to any areas where his legal thinking diverged from his personal politics. It’s the same shell game US Supreme Court justices like Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas play: insisting they are just fairly, neutrally applying the rule of law, yet doing so in rulings that always line up nicely with their personal preferences.
RELATED FROM PN: Why Clarence Thomas doesn't give a damn about ethics
Given his past work defending Wisconsin’s electoral maps, it's obvious Kelly would have supported efforts by the state GOP to continue to draw gerrymandered ones. And Wisconsin's are some of the worst in the country. In 2011, the maps the GOP drew were so gerrymandered that when a group of Duke University professors created over 19,000 random electoral maps for the state, they found that the map actually adopted by the state GOP showed “more Republican bias than over 99 percent” of the randomly generated plans. That biased GOP map was what Dan Kelly defended in 2012.
The maps drawn by state Republicans in 2021 were even worse. Researchers from Havard and George Washington ranked them the fourth-most skewed toward Republicans in the nation. What this has resulted in, as far as who gets elected, is that Republicans consistently hold the state legislature despite not getting a majority of the vote statewide. For example, back in 2012, Republicans took 60 of the 99 seats in the Assembly, but they only had 48.6 percent of the vote. In 2022, Republicans had 53 percent of the vote for Assembly seats but won 65 percent of the seats, and for the state Senate, garnered 61 percent of the vote but got 71 percent of the seats.
The ridiculous argument for impeachment
Republican legislators in the state tend to go after any Democrat who wins a statewide election, perhaps because their gerrymandering doesn’t work in those instances. So when Gov. Tony Evers was first elected in 2018, defeating Scott Walker, one of Walker’s last acts in his lame-duck session was to sign bills weakening the power of the governor’s office, limiting Evers’s ability to address early voting and voter ID laws, and forcing Evers to go to the GOP-dominated legislature when he wanted to make changes to certain programs in the state.
Now, their target is Protasiewicz, who trounced Kelly in a statewide election, with voters making very clear they supported her values over his. However, since the state GOP now has a supermajority in the legislature, they can credibly threaten impeachment because Protasiewicz threatens their ironclad control of the state. And that’s what Republicans are doing, even if their stated reasons for it are absurd.
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