Wisconsin Democrats are launching a $4 million ad blitz over the next several weeks to target GOP lawmakers that are considering whether to pursue the impeachment of a new liberal justice.
Justice Janet Protasiewicz's ascension to the Wisconsin Supreme Court created a new 4-3 liberal majority, jeopardizing Republican-drawn state legislative maps and risking the repeal of a 173-year-old state law that bans abortion. The statute became active again after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.
The Wisconsin Democratic Party on Wednesday launched a $4 million effort to pressure Republicans to back down from impeaching Protasiewicz.
After investing nearly $10 million in electing the liberal justice, the effort is meant to protect what Democrats hailed as a major political victory. The new $4 million effort, which leaders said will grow to include other groups, will include digital and television ads, in-person voter outreach and a website that tracks where every Republican lawmaker stands on impeachment.
"Politicians should not be overturning elections because they don’t like the results or the outcome," said Democrat Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard at a press conference outside the state capitol. "And we cannot let Robin Vos and Wisconsin’s Republicans get away with this unconstitutional, unprecedented power grab in our state."
"Republicans are holding a political nuclear football," Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler said, deeming the threat of impeachment had amounted to "political extortion."
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has been the most outspoken about possible impeachment, said the effort only proves that the party's and Protasiewicz's interests "are one and the same."
During the campaign, Protasiewicz spoke in favor of abortion and called GOP-drawn maps "unfair" and "rigged." Justices for the Wisconsin Supreme Court are officially nonpartisan, but the candidates have long aligned along partisan lines. Republicans have raised impeachment as a possibility if Protasiewicz does not recuse herself from consideration of two redistricting lawsuits filed in her first week in office last month. The GOP-controlled legislature asked for her to step aside from the cases.
Protasiewicz on Tuesday gave attorneys until Sept. 18 to react to the fact that the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, which investigates complaints against judges, dismissed complaints against her that alleged her campaign comments on redistricting violated the state judicial code.
A lawsuit in a county court seeking to overturn Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban was filed before Protasiewicz won the election. That case is expected to eventually reach the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The legislative electoral maps drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature in 2011 cemented the party’s majorities, which now stand at 65-34 in the Assembly and a 22-11 supermajority in the Senate. It would take only 50 votes to impeach. It takes 22 votes to convict in the Senate, the exact number of seats Republicans hold.
If the state Senate moves forward to convict Protasiewicz on impeachment charges and remove her from her position before Dec. 1, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, would be required to announce a replacement. That person would face voters next April when the GOP presidential primary would also be on the ballot, the New York Times reported.
Though there is not much precedent for an impeachment, the state constitution limits reasons to impeach a sitting officeholder to corrupt conduct in office or the commission of a crime.
The escalating fight over her seat has implications for the 2024 presidential election in the battleground state.
In 2020, the conservative-controlled Supreme Court came within one vote of overturning President Biden's win in the state. More fights over election rules that will be in place for the 2024 election are pending and any disputes over the winner could be decided once again by the state Supreme Court.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.