Wisconsin Republicans are asking a liberal justice not to hear a redistricting case

Janet Protasiewicz
Posted at 11:58 AM, Jan 30, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-30 12:58:40-05

MADISON (AP) — Five of Wisconsin's Republican members of Congress, along with the GOP-controlled Legislature, are asking the newest liberal member of the state Supreme Court not to hear a redistricting lawsuit that seeks to redraw congressional maps ahead of the November election.

The court has not yet decided whether to hear the case filed this month by the Elias Law Group, a Democratic law firm based in the nation's capital. The court has already overturned Republican-drawn state legislative maps and is in the process of determining what the new lines will be.

The new lawsuit argues that decision last month ordering new state legislative maps opens the door to the latest challenge focused on congressional lines.

Republicans asked in that case for Justice Janet Protasiewicz to recuse herself, based on comments she made during her campaign calling the legislative maps "rigged" and "unfair." She refused to step aside and was part of the 4-3 majority in December that ordered new maps.

Now Republicans are making similar arguments in calling for her to not hear the congressional redistricting challenge. In a motion filed Monday, they argued that her comments critical of the Republican maps require her to step aside in order to avoid a due process violation of the U.S. Constitution. They also cite the nearly $10 million her campaign received from the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

"A justice cannot decide a case she has prejudged or when her participation otherwise creates a serious risk of actual bias," Republicans argued in the motion. "Justice Protasiewicz's public campaign statements establish a constitutionally intolerable risk that she has prejudged the merits of this case."

Protasiewicz rejected similar arguments in the state legislative map redistricting case, saying in October that the law did not require her to step down from that case.

"Recusal decisions are controlled by the law," Protasiewicz wrote then. "They are not a matter of personal preference. If precedent requires it, I must recuse. But if precedent does not warrant recusal, my oath binds me to participate."

Protasiewicz said that is the case even if the issue to be decided, like redistricting, is controversial.

"Respect for the law must always prevail," she wrote. "Allowing politics or pressure to sway my decision would betray my oath and destroy judicial independence."

Those seeking her recusal in the congressional redistricting case are the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Legislature and Republican U.S. Reps. Scott Fitzgerald, Glenn Grothman, Mike Gallagher, Bryan Steil and Tom Tiffany.

The only Republican not involved in the lawsuit is U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden, who represents western Wisconsin's 3rd Congressional District. His is one of only two congressional districts in Wisconsin seen as competitive.

The current congressional maps in Wisconsin were drawn by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and approved by the state Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court in March 2022 declined to block them from taking effect.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is under an extremely tight deadline to consider the challenge. State elections officials have said that new maps must be in place by March 15 in order for candidates and elections officials to adequately prepare for the Aug. 13 primary. Candidates can start circulating nomination papers on April 15.

The lawsuit argues that there is time for the court to accept map submissions and select one to be in place for the November election.