Wisconsin Republicans ask newly elected liberal justice to not hear redistricting case

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature asked that the newest Democratic-backed justice on the state Supreme Court recuse herself from lawsuits seeking to overturn GOP-drawn electoral maps, arguing that she has prejudged the cases.

Republicans argue in their motions filed with the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday and made public Wednesday that Justice Janet Protasiewicz can't fairly hear the cases because during her campaign for the seat earlier this year she called the Republican-drawn maps “unfair” and “rigged” and said there needs to be “a fresh look at the gerrymandering question.”

“Justice Protasiewicz’s campaign statements reveal that her thumb is very much on the scale in this case,” Republicans argue in their motion with the court.

Protasiewicz, who was backed by Democrats in her winning election in April, never said how she would rule on a redistricting lawsuit. She never committed to recusing herself from hearing the case. Her win gave liberals a 4-3 majority on the court.

Protasiewicz did promise to recuse herself from any case brought by the Wisconsin Democratic Party because it donated nearly $10 million to her campaign. There are two pending redistricting lawsuits, neither of which was brought by the Democratic Party.

However, the Republican-led Legislature argues that because Democrats would benefit from a redrawing of the maps, Protasiewicz must recuse herself from hearing the case. Staying on the case would violate Republicans' constitutional due process rights, they argue.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said that if Protasiewicz does not recuse herself from the redistricting case, he would look into pursuing her impeachment. Republicans have a two-thirds majority in the state Senate, which would be enough votes to remove Protasiewicz from office should the Assembly vote to impeach. However, her replacement would be named by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

Protasiewicz began her 10-year term in August. That week, two similar redistricting lawsuits were filed. The Legislature is seeking to intervene in both lawsuits and have Protasiewicz recuse herself from both.

Protasiewicz declined to comment when asked for her reaction to the request and whether she would step away from the cases.

“I appreciate your interest in the Wisconsin Supreme Court,” she said via email. “I do not wish to comment, but thank you very much for reaching out to me.”

Attorneys who brought the two redistricting cases had no immediate comment.

Wisconsin’s Assembly districts rank among the most gerrymandered nationally, with Republicans routinely winning far more seats than would be expected based on their average share of the vote, according to an Associated Press analysis.

Both lawsuits ask that all 132 state lawmakers be up for election that year in newly drawn districts. In Senate districts that are midway through a four-year term in 2024, there would be a special election, with the winners serving two years. The regular four-year cycle would resume again in 2026.

One lawsuit was filed on behalf of voters who support Democrats by Law Forward, a Madison-based liberal law firm, the Stafford Rosenbaum law firm, Election Law Clinic at Harvard Law School, Campaign Legal Center, and the Arnold & Porter law firm.

The other case was brought by voters who support Democratic candidates and several members of the Citizen Mathematicians and Scientists. That group of professors and research scientists submitted proposed legislative maps in 2022, before the state Supreme Court adopted the Republican-drawn ones.