Tag: wisconsin supreme court
Janet Protasiewicz

New Liberal Majority On Wisconsin's Top Court May Mean Big Changes

Judge Janet Protasiewicz was sworn in on Tuesday afternoon as the ninth justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, cementing a five–member liberal majority that could hear major cases on issues such as abortion and gerrymandering, potentially reshaping the legal landscape of the state.

Protasiewicz took the oath of office at the state Capitol rotunda in Madison, Wisconsin. The liberal Justice Ann Walsh Bradley administered the oath in front of hundreds of observers.

“We all want a Wisconsin where our freedoms are protected; we all want a Wisconsin with a fair and impartial Supreme Court; we all want to live in communities that are safe, and we all want a Wisconsin where everyone is afforded equal justice under the law,” Protasiewicz said. “That’s why I don’t take this responsibility lightly.”

Protasiewicz’s swearing-in marks the end of 15 years of conservative control of the court.

The new majority on the court is predicted to strike down the state’s abortion ban, which was passed in the mid-19th century but was rendered unenforceable for decades by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling, and throw out the state’s legislative maps. Critically, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin’s liberal majority will be a bulwark against Republican attempts to limit voting access.

In an election held in April, Protasiewicz, formerly a prosecutor and a Milwaukee County judge, defeated conservative former Justice Daniel Kelly by an 11-point landslide. Protasiewicz’s campaign for the open seat centered on abortion — it said in one of her first campaign ads that she supported “a woman’s freedom to make her own decision on abortion” — and the state’s legislative maps, which she called rigged.

Interest groups and donors were aware of the stakes. During the election, powerful pro- and anti-abortion rights groups broke along ideological lines to support Protasiewicz and Kelly, while labor unions and business groups, political parties, and wealthy in-state and out-of-state donors spent heavily to back their favored candidate. The race between Kelly and Protasiewicz was by far the most expensive state supreme court election in modern history, costing at least $56 million. Even that figure, according to WisPolitics, is likely an undercount.

Voter turnout also broke records. Nearly 2 million Wisconsin residents voted in the election. In the last race for Supreme Court, in 2020, 1.5 million Wisconsinites cast a ballot.

“The election of Janet Protasiewicz changed the balance of power, breaking what has for years been an extreme conservative stranglehold on Wisconsin’s State Supreme Court,” state Rep. Lisa Subeck, a Democrat, said in an email sent to the American Independent Foundation. “This opens the door to a new era of fairness on the court, and this gives us great hope on a number of issues.”

“With a case challenging Wisconsin’s criminal abortion ban already filed and expected to make its way to Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, flipping the conservative majority on the court was vital to ensuring our case is given fair consideration,” she added. “Protasiewicz’s presence on the court means abortion could again be available in Wisconsin in the not-so-distant future.”

On June 28, 2022, days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade with its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, both Democrats, filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s abortion ban in the Dane County Circuit Court. In July of this year, Dane County Circuit Judge Diane Schlipper rejected arguments from state Republicans that the case should be thrown out and allowed the lawsuit to continue.

Also in play are Wisconsin’s legislative maps, which determine how voters are grouped into districts. By strategically creating electoral districts, Republican map drawers have divided voters so as to give the GOP an advantage in the state’s elections for the General Assembly and Senate, a strategy called gerrymandering. Under the current maps, Democrats would have to win by landslide margins to have a chance of securing even a narrow majority in the Assembly.

Right now, despite Democrats having won the last statewide election, Republicans in Wisconsin are two Assembly seats from a supermajority in the Legislature that would allow them to impeach elected state officials and override the governor’s veto.

“If the court were to rule our legislative maps — considered by experts to be the most politically gerrymandered in the nation — unconstitutional, voters could finally have their say in choosing their representatives,” Subeck said. “This comes after more than a decade of unfair maps drawn to ensure a large Republican majority and a decade later redrawn to expand and bake in that majority for another ten years, even as the voters of the state elect Democrats in nearly every statewide election.”

A challenge is already in the works. Subeck noted that Law Forward, a progressive nonprofit law firm, has announced that it plans to file a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s legislative maps later this year.

Law Forward declined to comment for this story.

“I think there’s general agreement that the legal action that will be filed will result in a reopening of the redistricting that occurred … in 2021, and a revisiting of the maps,” Jay Heck, the director of the nonpartisan good government group Common Cause Wisconsin, told the American Independent Foundation in an interview.

Originally, during the 2021 redistricting cycle, the conservative majority on the state Supreme Court selected maps drawn by Evers. However, after Republicans in the Legislature filed an emergency request with the U.S. Supreme Court, the six-justice conservative majority overturned the state court’s decision. Conservatives on the state Supreme Court then adopted gerrymandered maps that gave Republicans a significant advantage.

Heck said that in their dissent, the three progressive justices “said that those maps were too partisan, that they disenfranchised lots of voters who don’t really have the opportunity to be able to have their votes count as much as someone voting for a Republican because of the way some districts were drawn. And so I would assume that that would be the basis of the lawsuit.”

If the maps are ruled unconstitutional the court could take a variety of steps to replace them, as redistricting fights in other states show. For example, in 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out Republican-drawn congressional maps on the grounds that they were gerrymandered and asked the state to provide new, less partisan maps, but then-Gov. Tom Wolf and the state Legislature couldn’t come to an agreement. The court ultimately imposed maps of its own.

Heck said he doesn’t think that the court would draw its own maps, but that it would instead solicit maps from elected officials and make a selection from among them, as the conservative majority on the court did in 2021.

“Evers did a very good job of submitting maps that were less partisan and less Republican-leaning than the maps that the Republican Legislature gave to the Supreme Court, which they accepted and ultimately chose 4-3,” he said. “I think that would be the leading candidate as an alternative.

“Now they might decide to select other maps that are there,” Heck added. “Here’s the thing: Maps can be drawn relatively quickly by lots of different entities. And they may say, Well, we will, in the next month, look at some other maps. And so you can imagine the scrambling that I’m sure is already happening to do that.”

In the 2021 round of redistricting, Common Cause Wisconsin supported the maps drawn by Evers’ office. Heck said that, barring unforeseen circumstances, the group would do the same if the Republican maps were thrown out.

Looking ahead to 2024, Heck said, “I think the state Supreme Court majority will be more kindly towards voting, as opposed to the conservative majority that was less friendly.”

Heck pointed to two decisions handed down by the court’s conservatives: one last year to end the use of ballot drop-boxes and another barring election clerks from adding minor details, such as an omitted zip code, on ballots that would otherwise not be counted. Heck called the rulings “death by a thousand cuts to voting in Wisconsin.”

“Under 30,000 separat[ed] the winner and the loser in four of the six elections for president in Wisconsin since 2000, and that’s out of 3.5, 3.6 million votes cast. So it’s infinitesimal, the separation. So every vote literally does matter here,” Heck said.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent.

Wisconsin Republicans Appoint Election Denier To Senate Elections Committee

Wisconsin Republicans Appoint Election Denier To Senate Elections Committee

Wisconsin Senate Republicans have drawn backlash for appointing a controversial new senator who sought to delay the certification of the 2020 presidential election results — and signaled an intent to impeach the state’s newly-elected liberal state Supreme Court Justice — as chairman of a committee overseeing elections.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) announced Tuesday that Sen. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown), who was sworn in just last week after winning a special election in April for the Senate District 8 seat, would chair the Wisconsin Senate Committee on Shared Revenue, Elections, and Consumer Protection, according to the Wisconsin Examiner.

“Senator Knodl will bring added experience and expertise to the Senate,” LeMahieu said in a press release. “His appointment will further strengthen the excellent work being done in these Committees.”

Knodl was one of 15 Wisconsin Republican lawmakers and over 100 lawmakers nationwide who signed onto a letter, dated January 5, 2021, urging then-Vice President Mike Pence to hold off on certifying the 2020 election results for ten days, citing “illegalities present in the 2020 election” and “a coordinated and structured multi-state effort to undermine state law protecting election integrity.”

The letter argued that the Constitution permitted battleground states’ legislatures to “[investigate] and [determine] whether the election should be certified, or decertified” — an authority with which they could overturn then-President Donald Trump’s loss on the baseless grounds of rampant election fraud, despite the preponderance of evidence disproving such claims.

“Making sure our elections are fair and accurate should be a bipartisan effort and we should be continually looking to improve our election process.,” Knodl said in a statement Thursday. “It is of utmost importance that every citizen in Wisconsin has confidence in their vote being legally cast and counted correctly.”

Knodl’s victory gave the state GOP a two-thirds supermajority in the state Senate, which could be used to impeach Wisconsin Democratic governor Tony Evers and other elected officials, including Wisconsin judge Janet Protasiewicz, who was elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court by a landslide on Tuesday, April 4, the day before Knodl won.

In an interview with WISN-TV a week before his victory, Knodl said the “Milwaukee County justice system is failing” and called for local prosecutors and judges, including Protasiewicz, to face scrutiny, Newsweek reported.

“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, per NBC News.

“Janet Protasiewicz is a Circuit Court judge right now in Milwaukee, and she has failed,” he continued. When the Republican was asked if he “would support impeaching her,” Knodl replied, “I certainly would consider it.”

The outlet noted it was unclear whether Knodl was referring to potentially impeaching her from her previous position on the Milwaukee Circuit Court or following her election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard (D-Madison) blasted Knodl’s appointment, calling him unfit to oversee the election committee given his signature on the election-subversion letter.

"Senator Knodl actively worked to thwart the peaceful transition of power by signing on to a letter requesting that VP Pence delay the certification of the 2020 presidential election. He does not respect the nation’s longstanding democratic processes and is unfit to chair a committee exercising some oversight of Wisconsin‘s elections," Agard said in a statement.

Knodl said Agard’s comments were “unfortunate” and “immediately sets up an adversarial relationship regarding election oversight,” a matter he said required all hands on deck “to improve.”

“I am uniquely qualified to chair such a committee because of my election reform legislation and my recognition of election irregularities,” he added.

Coulter Warns Republicans: 'Stop Pushing Strict Limits On Abortion'

Coulter Warns Republicans: 'Stop Pushing Strict Limits On Abortion'

The anti-abortion movement suffered a major disappointment on Tuesday, April 4, when liberal Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz defeated far-right MAGA Republican Dan Kelly by 11 percent in a race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Protasiewicz campaigned aggressively on abortion rights, hammering Kelly nonstop as an anti-choice "extremist."

Right-wing author/pundit Ann Coulter, who identifies as "pro-life," was quick to weigh in on Protasiewicz's double-digit win. And she acknowledged that abortion has become a major liability for her party, tweeting, "The demand for anti-abortion legislation just cost Republicans another crucial race. Pro-lifers: WE WON. Abortion is not a 'constitutional right' anymore! Please stop pushing strict limits on abortion, or there will be no Republicans left."

Technically, the Wisconsin Supreme Court race was nonpartisan. But Protasiewicz enjoyed considerable Democratic Party support, while MAGA Republicans and the religious right got behind Kelly.

Protasiewicz was hardly the first post-Roe v. Wade candidate to prioritize abortion rights and enjoy a double-digit victory. In the 2022 midterms, pro-choice Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer defeated far-right Republican challenger by 11 percent. And in Pennsylvania, Democratic now-Gov. Josh Shapiro won by around 15 percent after attacking the GOP nominee, State Sen. Doug Mastriano, relentlessly on his abortion record.

In an article published by Politico on April 8, journalist Steven Shepard emphasizes that abortion is becoming more and more of a liability for the Republican Party. And he cites polls showing that Americans on the whole are even more pro-choice that they were in the past.

"Conservatives are finding out the hard way that abortion isn't a 50-50 issue anymore," Shepard explains. "Janet Protasiewicz's 11-point blowout victory this week for a state Supreme Court seat in Wisconsin was just the latest example of voters who support abortion rights outnumbering — and outvoting — their opponents. There was little polling in Tuesday's race, but in a 2022 midterm exit poll of the state, a combined 63 percent of Wisconsin voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while only 34 percent thought it should be illegal in all or most cases."

The reporter adds, "Moreover, for the 31 percent of 2022 voters who said abortion was their most important issue — second only to inflation at 34 percent — they overwhelmingly backed Democratic Gov. Tony Evers (83 percent) and Democratic Senate candidate Mandela Barnes (81 percent), who lost narrowly to GOP Sen. Ron Johnson."

During the 1990s and 2000s, Shepard observes, Gallup found that Americans were "divided roughly evenly between those who called themselves 'pro-life' and 'pro-choice.'" But now, the reporter adds, polls show "roughly six in 10 voters supporting legal abortion in most cases."

In February, Gallup found that 69 percent of "U.S. adults" were "dissatisfied with abortion laws."

Pew Research Group, in 2022, found that "a 61 percent majority of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 37 percent think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases."

In January, a National Public Radio/Ipsos poll found that three in five Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

In an article published by CNN on April 9, reporter Harry Enten cited the abortion issue and former President Donald Trump's legal problems as two major liabilities for the GOP in 2024.

"Neither abortion nor Trump seem to be going away as an issue in 2023," Enten observes. "Abortion was at the forefront of the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, with liberals hoping that a win by Protasiewicz would provide them with a majority to legalize the procedure statewide. And Trump remains the clear favorite for the GOP nomination for president, despite his indictment and continuing unpopularity among the general electorate. If those things don't change going into 2024, Republicans may be in big trouble."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

'MAGA' Election Protest

Wisconsin’s Chief Justice Slams Threats, Violence By Trump Supporters

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack on Christmas Day opted to publicly speak out about her growing concerns regarding the reckless remarks being levied against members of the court over their disapproval of President Donald Trump's push to invalidate the results of the presidential election.

In the rare holiday statement released on Friday, Dec. 25, Roggensack spoke about the threats made against members of the court based on their decisions and religious beliefs as she publicly denounced "threats of actual or proposed violence," according to Law & Crime.

"I am concerned about recent comments aimed at members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Roggensack said. "I acknowledge that all members of the public have the constitutional right to speak in criticism of public servants, which certainly includes all justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. However, no justice should be threatened or intimidated based on his or her religious beliefs. Wisconsin has a long history of protecting the right to freely worship, as well as the right to freely speak."

She added, "Also, threats of actual or proposed violence have no place in public discourse in a democratic society"

Roggensack also urged the American public to recenter its focus on what lies ahead as she noted the importance of being able to agree to disagree without discourse.

"As we are about to begin a new year, let us all refocus on coming together where possible and treating those with whom we disagree with the respect that each of us would like to receive," she concluded.

Roggensack's remarks follow the Wisconsin Supreme Court's ruling against the Trump campaign's post-election lawsuit. During an interview with The New York Times, Justice Brian Hagedorn, who authored the ruling, also spoke publicly about the backlash he has faced as he revealed details about the death threats he has faced as a result of his stance. Not only has he been verbally lambasted, he has also been a public target of Trump's ire.

"I've been called a traitor. I've been called a liar. I've been called a fraud," Hagedorn told the Times. "I've been asked if I'm being paid off by the Chinese Communist Party. I've been told I might be tried for treason by a military tribunal. Sure, I've gotten lots of interesting and sometimes dark messages."