Judicial News, Part II: More on the Wisconsin Shenanigans
Yesterday, we had
on the chicanery in Wisconsin; unable to win elections the old-fashioned way, Republicans there have taken to exploiting
loopholes. The current plan is to find some reason to impeach newly elected Democratic state Supreme Court Justice Janet
Protasiewicz, then to hold off on a trial, effectively suspending her indefinitely and turning a 4-3 Democratic majority
The Bulwark has access to someone who is really on top
of the Wisconsin government—reporter Bill Lueders—and he
some of the specific elements of the current dispute. We think they're worth passing along:
- Reorganization: The moment the liberals were in the majority, they took some
responsibilities away from conservative Chief Justice Annette Ziegler, and assigned them to a committee instead (the
committee will include Ziegler and two of her liberal colleagues). The liberals say these were necessary steps to reduce
the politicization of the Wisconsin courts and to reverse the concentration of power into too few hands. Ziegler calls
it a "coup." It may be worth noting that Ziegler got her current post when the court's conservative then-majority
demoted liberal Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and elevated Ziegler.
- More Reorganization: The liberals also fired Randy Koschnick, who had been director of
Wisconsin's state courts since 2017. He was chosen for the job because he's a staunch conservative, and he was
presumably fired for the same reason, although no explicit reason was given when he was terminated. The interim
replacement is Audrey Skwierawski, a sitting judge who was conservative enough to be appointed to the bench by
Republican Scott Walker, but who is ostensibly less conservative than Koschnick.
There is no question that the liberal majority is allowed to hire and fire the court director, but there is a dispute
over whether a sitting judge can occupy the post. The liberals say that it's OK, because a judge is allowed to
simultaneously hold multiple "judicial offices," and the court directorship is a judicial office. The conservatives say
the directorship is not a judicial office, and so Skwierawski's appointment is illegal. Ziegler has pledged to hire her
own court director, which means the state will soon have dueling court directors, both claiming they are the legitimate
one and the other is a fraud. So, something very much like the popes and antipopes of the Early Modern era.
- Transparency: Until 2012, whenever the state Supremes met to discuss administrative or rules
issues (as opposed to actual cases), the meetings were open to the public. Then, 4 of the 5 conservatives then sitting
on the court voted to close the administrative conferences. In 2017, they did the same for the rules conferences. Now,
the liberals have reopened both. Protasiewicz ran on that promise, so it's not exactly a surprise, but the conservatives
are hopping mad.
- Gerrymandering: As we noted yesterday, and as politics watchers know, the Wisconsin
Supremes are about to consider a couple of gerrymandering cases. Protasiewicz was already involved in gerrymandering cases at
lower levels of the court system, but she says that's not going to stop her from participating at the state Supreme
Court level. Republicans say this is gross corruption; if they do impeach her, this will probably be the high
crime/misdemeanor Protasiewicz is charged with. It is worth noting that Protasiewicz has never ruled on the specific
question that is going to end up before the Court, namely whether the gerrymandered maps are in violation of the state
The point here is that while Wisconsin Republicans are engaged in a fair bit of problematic behavior, while also
choking on their current diet of sour grapes, Wisconsin Democrats are not innocent lambs here. They are certainly
playing some hardball (although hardball that is entirely within the rules established by Wisconsin law).
One other thing to add to the item from yesterday. If Republicans in the Wisconsin state House impeach Protasiewicz,
and then Republicans in the Wisconsin state Senate refuse to actually take the matter up, it would sideline the judge...
unless she resigns. In that case, then Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) would choose a replacement, and among the folks eligible
for that honor are... Janet Protasiewicz.
The downside to resigning and being re-appointed is that Protasiewicz would no longer be entitled to a 10-year term,
and would have to run for office again in an election next year. But exactly how much of a downside is that? As The
Bulwark's Charlie Sykes
this year's election had Democrats coming out of the woodwork to vote for Protasiewicz (and, by extension, to vote to
protect abortion access). Do Wisconsin Republicans really want to have her on the ballot again, on two different
occasions, in 2024?
In short, there is quite a chess game going on in Wisconsin right now. (Z)
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