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Amid talk of impeaching liberal justice, legal scholar says case is 'weak'

Under Wisconsin law, the reasons for impeaching an official include committing a crime or corruption.
Posted at 9:34 AM, Sep 08, 2023

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz made just her first appearance on the bench Thursday for a court rules petition hearing.

Yet, there's already talk among Republicans to remove her.

Some lawmakers, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, have said Protasiewicz must recuse herself from redistricting cases.

They've accused her of bias for calling election maps "rigged" during her campaign. They also say her acceptance of $10 million from the Wisconsin Democratic Party is grounds for recusal.

If she doesn't step back from those cases once they reach the court, it's been suggested, there could be an attempt to impeach her.

Howard Schweber, Professor Emeritus at UW-Madison Law School, said the newest Supreme Court justice hasn't broken any rules.

Under Wisconsin law, the reasons for impeaching an official include committing a crime or corruption.

"There's never been a principle that a judge or justice can't indicate a preference for an idea or a philosophical position. So, it seems to me an extraordinarily weak case," said Scheweber.

However, Schweber, said, in politics, you may not need a strong case to impeach.

"An impeachable offense at some point is whatever enough members of the legislature will vote for," said Schweber.

If the Assembly votes to impeach Protasiewicz, she couldn't sit on the bench while waiting for the Senate to vote for acquittal or conviction.

The Republican-controlled Senate could delay that vote, possibly even for months, according to Schweber, until after critical cases like abortion and redistricting come and go.

"I really think there's no limit to the political hardball they'll attempt to play here," said Schweber.

It's unclear when, or if, an impeachment attempt will be made. For now, it's also unclear when the court will hear the sensitive cases.

The assembly has only ever impeached one state judge, Justice Levi Hubbell. He was accused of taking bribes back in 1853. The Senate acquitted him.