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Wisconsin Supreme Court Impeachment Watch, Day Two
This article is just an excuse to practice typing 'Protasiewicz' a lot so the spelling sinks in.
Even before Tuesday's special election for a vacant seat on Wisconsin's supreme court, some Republicans were already talking about impeaching the eventual winner, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz — at least from her seat on that county court.
Now that she's actually a Wisconsin supreme court justice-elect, Democrats worry that the Republican supermajority in Wisconsin's Senate might shift their sights higher and try to remove Protasiewicz from the supreme court instead. Republicans are very distressed that Protasiewicz and the new 4-3 liberal majority on the court might protect abortion rights or even undo the Republican gerrymander that has given the GOP overwhelming majorities in the state Legislature — as well as a congressional delegation (five Republicans, two Democrats) that looks like it came from Tennessee, not a 50-50 purple state.
Protasiewicz won her election Tuesday with 55.5 percent of the vote, which sure looks like an impressive majority, but as we've already noted today, elected majorities don't necessarily mean anything to Republicans anymore. And the very same special election that put Protasiewicz on the court also filled a vacant seat in the state Senate, restoring the Republican supermajority of 22 seats that had been in place after the 2022 midterms. The winner, Republican state Assemblyman Dan Knodl, replaces former state Sen. Alberta Darling, who retired in November last year after 32 years in the Legislature (Wisconsin senators serve four-year terms; Darling was reelected in 2020).
Shortly before the election, Knodl said in a radio interview that he would certainly be open to impeaching judges from Milwaukee County for being too "weak on crime," if you know what he meant and of course you do.
Knodl explained that if Republicans regained the supermajority in the Senate, the GOP would have "more authority in the areas of oversight and accountability of elected officials and appointed officials."
“If there are some that are out there that are corrupt, that are failing at their tasks, then we have the opportunity to hold them accountable … up to impeachment,” Knodl said.
“Janet Protasiewicz is a Circuit Court judge right now in Milwaukee, and she has failed,” he continued. Asked whether he “would support impeaching her,” Knodl replied, “I certainly would consider it.”
He also said he'd consider impeaching Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm, whom Republicans consider soft on crime, too.
Knodl didn't specifically say that he would still want to impeach Protasiewicz if she won a seat on the supreme court. He hasn't commented on that after Tuesday's election, either. But the comments from prior to the election, and other Republicans' talk of going after statewide Democratic office holders, have Democrats concerned.
Knodl was among 15 Wisconsin Republican legislators who called on Mike Pence to please not certify the 2020 election results so Donald Trump could have the second term he deserved, even if he didn't technically win it. So why would he be overly concerned about Protasiewicz's solid electoral victory this week?
Let's also recall that Wisconsin Republicans also reacted to the 2018 election of Gov. Tony Evers (D) by using the lame-duck session to strip the governor's office of all sorts of powers the Legislature had granted former Gov. Scott Walker. The changes were later reversed by a state court, but Wisconsin Rs are no strangers to power grabs after elections.
Prior to the election, another Republican state senator, Duey Stroebel, whose name sounds like an off-brand toaster pastry, told the New York Times that impeaching Protasiewicz wasn't likely, but "certainly not impossible" if she voted to overturn the abortion law or gerrymandered election maps. He noted that her hypothetical removal would simply be a matter of respecting the people's votes — not the people who voted for her, but the people who elected Republicans to the gerrymandered state Lege.
"A lot of the duly passed laws by the elected representatives of the state of Wisconsin would be deemed invalid. [...] It wouldn’t be the people electing their representatives that would be making decisions, it would be her, based on her personal beliefs."
Stroebel just cares about the will of the right people so very much, you see! So if the duly elected supreme court member votes wrong, well, that might need to be corrected:
“If she truly acts in terms of ignoring our laws and applying her own personal beliefs, then maybe that’s something people will talk about,” he said. “If the rulings are contrary to what our state laws and Constitution say, I think there could be an issue.”
Keep in mind that Sen. Streusel was discussing this a week before the election, and unlike Knodl, very much not limiting himself to the prospect that Protasiewicz would lose and remain a county judge. (Nobody is hungry for a Knodl Strudel, one hopes.)
Now, if you're the sort of person who takes comfort in the words "very unlikely," we refer you to this piece from the journalism nonprofit Wisconsin Watch, which points out that removing a statewide officeholder isn't necessarily easy, even though Republicans now have that supermajority in the state Senate.
“The Assembly may impeach an elected official by a majority vote based on specific reasons: corrupt conduct in office or for the commission of a crime or misdemeanor,” according to a Wisconsin Legislative Council memo.
It's nigh unthinkable that the Republican majority House might simply trump up some charges, like accusing Protasiewicz of criming by talking during the campaign about her support for women's rights to make their own medical decisions and calling that "corrupt." Republicans wouldn't dream of simply throwing elected leaders out of office over mere political disagreement. They would have to come up with a pretext first.
Wisconsin state Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R) said in a local TV interview yesterday that nobody should worry about impeaching anyone just now, OK?
"To impeach someone they would need to do something very serious, so no we are not looking to start the impeachment process as a regular occurring event in Wisconsin."
Mind you, "not looking to start the impeachment process as a regular occurring event" doesn't exactly rule out the possibility that impeachment might only have to be used just the once, to rid Republicans of a meddlesome jurist. Not that we'd ever be so cynical as to suggest a Republican politician might not be making an ironclad pledge.
We suppose it also might help that Republicans no doubt know how unpopular removing Protasiewicz would be with voters, so that might slow down a few of them in the few competitive districts left in the state. A successful recall election in a single district would strip them of their supermajority in the Senate again. Or they may decide it's worth the risk, since the House doesn't have the Republican supermajority needed to override Evers's vetoes anyway.
Good luck, Justice-elect Protasiewicz!
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