On Friday, August 18, 2023, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that the Wisconsin Supreme Court is embroiled in a controversy surrounding Justice Janet Protasiewicz, a liberal justice who has been accused by her conservative counterpart, Justice Rebecca Bradley, of failing to recuse herself from a redistricting case that may be taken up by the court. Bradley criticized Protasiewicz for not stepping aside and claimed that any decision in the case would be predetermined and “rigged,” echoing Protasiewicz’s own characterization of the state’s current legislative maps.

Bradley expressed her dissent in response to an order from the court, which called for the Wisconsin Elections Commission to address liberals’ request for the court to directly accept a lawsuit seeking to redraw the state’s legislative maps. In her dissent, Bradley contended that the case had already been decided in advance and highlighted the $10 million that Protasiewicz had received from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, referring to it as the “Democrat Party of Wisconsin.”

Bradley further alleged that the newly formed 4-3 liberal majority on the court would use their power to shift political influence away from Republicans and provide an electoral advantage to Democratic candidates, fulfilling promises made by Protasiewicz to her campaign’s principal funder.

Protasiewicz has previously stated that she would recuse herself from cases involving the state’s Democratic Party. However, the group is not directly involved in the two cases seeking to redraw Wisconsin’s legislative boundaries, which experts claim are among the most heavily gerrymandered in the country. Despite calls from Republicans for her recusal, Protasiewicz has maintained that she will not step aside from the redistricting cases.

Bradley cited a U.S. Supreme Court case in her dissent, which ruled that a judge must recuse themselves if they receive a substantial donation from a litigant, as the probability of bias becomes unconstitutionally high. Conservatives have also accused Protasiewicz of violating a provision in the Wisconsin Code of Judicial Conduct, which prohibits candidates from making pledges, promises, or commitments on issues likely to come before the court.

However, a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, challenged the validity of a similar prohibition in Minnesota. The court ruled that judicial candidates have a First Amendment right to express their views on disputed legal and political matters, asserting that the government should not restrict candidates from communicating relevant information to voters during elections.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican, has raised the possibility of impeaching Protasiewicz if she does not recuse herself from the redistricting cases. The Wisconsin Assembly has the authority to impeach officials with a majority vote based on corrupt conduct in office or the commission of a crime or misdemeanor, according to a memo from the Wisconsin Legislative Council.

In response to the controversy, the liberal justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court have announced the formation of a bipartisan task force to study the issue of recusal and present recommendations to the court. However, it remains uncertain whether these recommendations will be made before the conclusion of the redistricting and abortion cases that may come before the court.


Source: Wisconsin State Journal