Wisconsin’s Republican leader is asking former state Supreme Court justices to review impeachment proceedings

The leader of the Wisconsin Republican Assembly announced Wednesday that he has created a commission to investigate impeachment standards as he considers taking the unprecedented step against a liberal state Supreme Court justice.

Republicans are targeting Judge Janet Protasevich over comments she made during her winning campaign about redistricting and the nearly $10 million in donations she received from the state Democratic Party.

The Accountability Standards Committee created by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos will consist of three former Wisconsin Supreme Court justices, whom Vos told The Associated Press he would not name until after they finish their work. Voss said they have not been paid, and he expected their work to be completed in “the next few weeks.”

The move to further investigate a possible impeachment against Protasevich comes a day after Vos and Republicans introduced a bill, similar to the law in Iowa, where new maps would be drawn by nonpartisan legislative staff and approved by the party-controlled Legislature. Republican for 2024.

But Gov. Tony Evers said he would veto the plan and advocates criticized it because it gives the Legislature the ability to draw maps if those created by nonpartisan staff are rejected twice.

Vos said on WISN-AM, where he announced the formation of an impeachment review panel, that he was trying to provide a “way out” for impeachment.

“This is my last option,” Vos said of potential impeachment. “They make it look like I’m foaming at the mouth for an impeachment. But that’s the last thing I want to happen, which is why we’ve taken what I would say is a very radical step to offer a different path.”

Protasevich joined the court on August 1, flipping majority control on the Wisconsin Supreme Court from conservative to liberal for the first time in 15 years.

Republicans have called on Protasevich to recuse herself from a pair of Democratic-backed redistricting lawsuits that seek to overturn GOP-drawn maps. Republicans say she can’t hear those issues fairly because she called the current maps “unfair” and “rigged” during the campaign and accepted nearly $10 million from the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

She has not yet decided to step down in those cases. But she backed away from another lawsuit filed this week asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to block any attempts by the Legislature to impeach Protasevich. It is up to each judge to decide whether or not to recuse themselves from the case.

The state’s judicial law prohibits judges and judicial candidates from making promises or commitments to rule a certain way in any case, and Protasevich adhered to this during her election campaign. Earlier this year, the state commission that investigates complaints against judges dismissed complaints it received related to her comments about redistricting.

All but one of the Supreme Court justices accepted money from political parties and were outspoken on hot-button issues before winning the election.

Vos said it was his “constitutional duty” to consider impeachment proceedings. Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, whom Vos appointed to lead an investigation into the 2020 election and then called an “embarrassment” and fired, will not be one of them, he told the AP.

Dan Kelly, the former judge whom Protasevich defeated in April, told the AP that he was not on the panel either.

That leaves five living former Voss judges to choose from. Former conservative judge Patience Roggensack, whose retirement filled the vacancy held by Protasevich, did not return a message asking if she was on the committee.

“I don’t want to make this a public spectacle,” Vos said on WISN when explaining why he kept the names of the judges secret. “The idea is I want them to do the research, and come back to us with what it would actually be like. They won’t be pressured, and that’s not the goal.”

The Wisconsin Constitution allows impeachment only for corrupt conduct in office or for the commission of a crime. It takes a simple majority in the Assembly to impeach and a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict.

Republicans have a 64-35 majority in the Assembly and a two-thirds majority, 22-11 in the Senate. They based that large majority on maps they drew in 2011, seen as among the most gerrymandered in the country, and which were upheld by the state Supreme Court when it was controlled by conservatives.

If the Assembly impeaches her, Protasević will be barred from performing any duties as a judge until the Senate acts. That could effectively prevent her from voting on redistricting without removing her from office and creating a vacancy that would be filled by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

If the Senate convicts her or she resigns, and there is a vacancy before December 1, that would trigger an election in April to fill the remainder of her 10-year term. Protasević won the election in April by 11 points.

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