Wisconsin is so absurdly gerrymandered, a roughly 50-50 split between the state’s Republican and Democratic voters—Donald Trump edged out Hillary Clinton in 2016, President Joe Biden squeaked by Trump in 2020, and Badger Staters narrowly reelected Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in 2022—has somehow produced gaudy Republican supermajorities in both the state Assembly and Senate. The party currently holds a 64-35 advantage in the Assembly and a 21-11 edge in the Senate.
Of course, if Wisconsin Republicans had their druthers, they’d draw little circles around every Chick-fil-A in the state and make those congressional districts. And previous state supreme courts might have let them get away with it.
But when liberal Judge Janet Protasiewicz trounced her conservative opponent in the state Supreme Court election in April, it was a big win—not just for those who care about reestablishing their reproductive rights, but for anyone who genuinely cares about representative democracy.
In other words, fair legislative maps looked achievable for the first time in more than a decade. Which meant it was now past time for the GOP to squeal.
On Friday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos hinted that impeachment could be on the table if Protasiewicz votes to disrupt the GOP’s plans for a permanent white minority rule over our country—or, worse, if Sen. Ron Johnson is ever forced to fill out his ballot next to a Black person. Why? Because she will have “prejudged” the case.
“If there’s any semblance of honor on the state Supreme Court left, you cannot have a person who runs for the court prejudging a case and being open about it, and then acting on the case as if you’re an impartial observer,” Vos said during an interview with WSAU host Meg Ellefson when questioned about the durability of the Republicans’ bullshit maps. “You cannot have a judge who said, you know, the maps are rigged because she bought into the argument that that’s why we’re winning elections, not the quality of our candidates, and then she sits on that trial acting like she’s gonna listen and hear both sides fairly—that just can’t happen.”
Okay, fine, but it’s kind of hard not to “prejudge” a gerrymandered map. Vos clearly has! Granted, he’s not a judge—and judges do need to rule on the particulars of individual cases without making snap, predetermined decisions, but in the storied history of easy calls, this one is right up there with the 1989 cancelation of “She’s the Sheriff.”
Anyone who looks at the issue and can’t see what’s going on has no business working at a Pep Boys, much less serving as a supreme court justice.
Consider this April story from The Atlantic, published shortly after Protasiewicz’s win flipped the state’s highest court to a 4-3 liberal majority:
After Democrats got wiped out in the 2010 midterms, Republicans gerrymandered Wisconsin with scientific precision—ensuring that in a state more or less evenly divided politically, the GOP would maintain its grip on power regardless of how the voters felt about it. Democrats would have to win by a landslide—at least 12 points, according to one expert—just to get a bare majority of 50 seats in the assembly, whereas Republicans could do so by winning only 44 percent of the vote. The U.S. Supreme Court has fueled a bipartisan race to the bottom on gerrymandering by invalidating every voter protection that comes before it, but even in today’s grim landscape, the Badger State is one of the standouts.
Wisconsin is a famously closely divided state, but thanks to their precise drawing of legislative districts, Republicans have maintained something close to a two-thirds majority whether they won more votes or not. With that kind of job security, Republicans in Wisconsin could enact an agenda far to the right of the state’s actual electorate, attacking unions, abortion rights, and voting rights without having to worry that swing voters would throw the bums out. After all, they couldn’t. And year after year, the right-wing majority on the state supreme court would ensure that gerrymandered maps kept their political allies in power and safely protected from voter backlash. Some mismatch between the popular vote and legislative districts is not inherently nefarious—it just happens to be both deliberate and extreme in Wisconsin’s case.
Nice racket, huh? In other words, Wisconsin’s liberals have been held hostage for years by unscrupulous Republicans who couldn’t care less about representative democracy. And this was years before the party as a whole decided it had no use for such quaint throwbacks.
But that doesn’t mean Wisconsin Republicans are done being shameless partisans.
In January, Protasiewicz called the state’s legislative maps “rigged” in a public forum and in March, she told Capital Times reporters in a podcast interview she would “enjoy taking a fresh look at the gerrymandering question.”
“They do not reflect people in this state. I don’t think you could sell any reasonable person that the maps are fair,” Protasiewicz, a former Milwaukee County judge, said in the January forum. “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.”
Vos suggested if Protasiewicz does not recuse from cases involving the maps, she would violate her oath of office, which might push lawmakers to consider impeaching her.
“I want to look and see, does she recuse herself on cases where she has prejudged? That to me is something that is at the oath of office and what she said she was going to do to uphold the Constitution. That to me is a serious offense.”
As The Journal Sentinel points out, Republicans now have the power to hold impeachment trials after having attained a supermajority in the state Senate—largely thanks to gerrymandered maps. And if they do, they could theoretically sideline Protasiewicz in order to protect those same maps.
As the above xweet from Brennan Center redistricting and voting counsel Michael Li explains, judges who’ve been impeached can’t even rule on cases until they’ve been acquitted. With Protasiewicz so sidelined if Republicans pull the trigger on impeachment, they could leverage a deadlocked 3-3 court to keep their maps (and minority rule) in place through 2024.
Meanwhile, Democrats in the Wisconsin Assembly are understandably calling bullshit.
“That type of reaction shows how threatened the Republican majority is by a challenge to their rigged maps,” Rep. Evan Goyke, a Milwaukee Democrat, told The Journal Sentinel. “It’s really good evidence that the state is gerrymandered, that they’d be willing to go to such an unprecedented maneuver.”
Goyke also suggested that Protasiewicz would have to be dense, corrupt, or a Republican (three great tastes that taste great together) to not see how untenable the current maps are.
“I also think that Justice Protasiewicz is a live human being in Wisconsin and understands that we are living in this gerrymander,” Goyke said. “I don’t think that one comment invalidates her ability to serve.”
Goyke further noted that Protasiewicz’s commanding 11-point victory in April is “a pretty clear mandate where the people stand.”
Sure, but since when do Republicans care where people stand? They’re typically more interested in forcing them to sit still and take their medicine, whether they want to or not.
But as the Daily Kos Elections team points out in a great thread worth a read, that approach is only going to continue to blow up in GOP faces.
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