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Politics, Deceit and Dysfunction Have Infected the Judiciary


Last April, Wisconsin voters were forced to choose between two lousy candidates for Supreme Court Justice. Dan Kelly acted like a puffed-up intellectual snob who couldn’t connect with Wisconsin voters. His critically important messages of judicial restraint and adherence to the Constitution never made it past his attitude. Janet Protasiewicz campaigned as a brazen partisan, chasing votes by signaling how she would vote on some of the most controversial issues that may come before the court. She shunned the precedent of previous judicial candidates who worked to assure the voters they would be impartial in carrying out their duties as a Supreme Court Justice.


The newly liberalized Wisconsin Supreme Court is wasting no time in showing us who they are and what their agenda is.


Before Justice Protasiewicz was sworn in, the soon to be liberal majority went to work. Justice Jill Karofsky phoned the Wisconsin State Courts Director, an administrator appointed to oversee court operations, to tell him he was about to be fired. He was told the new court majority was moving in a different direction. Acting before Protasiewicz was on the bench was inappropriate, and likely a more serious violation of rules or law.


The liberal majority quickly moved to neutralize the authority of the Chief justice, a conservative elected to a two-year term last May, by creating a committee with a liberal majority to take over functions previously belonging to the Chief justice. The liberal majority intends to control the court’s calendar.


It was no surprise when liberal groups immediately filed suits directly with the Supreme Court challenging the electoral maps of the state and asking for redistricting prior to the 2024 election. Republicans in the legislature are demanding Protasiewicz recuse herself if any of these suits are taken up by the Court because of her statements while campaigning.


Protasiewicz pledges that she will rule impartially on matters of redistricting. She is a liar. While campaigning in January she called the legislative maps “rigged” and said she would “enjoy taking a fresh look at the gerrymandering question.” She went on to say the maps “do not reflect people in this state. I don’t think you could sell any reasonable person that the maps are fair. 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.”


Judges decide if they will recuse themselves based on federal and state standards. Federal standards require recusal if there is a “strong possibility of bias.”  The Wisconsin Code of Judicial Conduct requires recusal if the judge made a statement as a candidate that “commits or appears to commit” the judge on the issue in question. One does not have to be a legal scholar to evaluate Protasiewicz’s comments against these standards and understand she must recuse from any redistricting proceedings.


The state legislature, dominated by Republicans, does not intend to rely on Protasiewicz to recuse herself. They have floated the idea of impeaching her. In Wisconsin, elected officials can be impeached for corrupt conduct or commission of a crime.


The impeachment process starts with a vote to impeach in the Assembly that must pass with a simple majority. The Senate then conducts a trial which takes a 2/3 majority to convict and remove the official from office. Once the Assembly votes to impeach, the official cannot carry out their duties unless acquitted by the Senate. Understanding the impeachment process leads to this question: Do the Republicans believe Protasiewicz has committed impeachable offenses or is this a political strategy to sideline her in the event redistricting is taken up by the court, creating a 3 to 3 split among the Justices? At all levels of government, we have become accustomed to elected officials spending their time exploiting technicalities in the system and trying to outmaneuver the opposing party rather than doing the work of the people.


The Judicial branch of government once seemed insulated from political influence and Justices, regardless of personal political leanings, worked to evaluate the questions before them objectively and impartially. Those days appear to be over.


Janet Protasiewicz’s 11-point victory over Dan Kelly sends a chilling message to those who are paying attention. If the voters care more about what they want in the short term, by any means available, than about the integrity of our Constitutional system of government, our founding principles are in jeopardy and the future of our republic in peril. Politics, deceit, and dysfunction have infected the judiciary. Do people recognize this? Do they care?

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