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Wisconsin Republicans grill judicial ethics commissioners, threaten to impeach Supreme Court justice

 August 23, 2023

In a hearing this week, Wisconsin Republicans rigorously questioned state judicial ethics commission members who still await state Senate confirmation.

They aimed to discern how these members might address potential grievances against the newly established liberal majority of the state Supreme Court, Fox News reported.

This hearing signals the mounting tension between the GOP-led legislature and the state Supreme Court, now dominated by liberal justices for the first time in the last 15 years.

Following the session, the committee's GOP leader, Sen. Van Wanggaard, praised the three nominees. However, he acknowledged that he hadn't contacted other Republican leaders regarding their positions.

Concerns Over Protasiewicz's Position on Key Cases

Republicans in the legislature are urging Justice Janet Protasiewicz to abstain from forthcoming court cases on electoral boundaries and reproductive rights, considering her recent election turned the balance in favor of the liberals.

During her campaign, Protasiewicz emphasized her support for abortion rights and criticized the GOP-endorsed electoral divisions, labeling them as biased.

Although her statements incited frustration among conservatives, she didn't specifically indicate how she might decide on related issues.

It's common practice for judges to share their views openly, but they must refrain from indicating their stance on upcoming cases.

Calls for Recusal and Potential Consequences

Robin Vos, Wisconsin's leading Republican, has cautioned Protasiewicz of potential impeachment if she doesn't recuse herself from a case related to electoral district boundaries, which was presented to the court right after she took office.

During Tuesday's session, Republican senators also probed the judicial ethics commissioners -- up for reappointment -- about their historical political donations.

They also inquired about conditions under which members would withdraw from a case, and how they would evaluate remarks like those from Protasiewicz.

A Senate vote, with Republicans holding a 22-11 majority, will ultimately decide the fate of Janet Jenkins, Mary Beth Keppel, and Judy Ziewacz.

If rejected, the result is equivalent to their termination from the panel.

Role of the Judicial Commission

The Judicial Commission, with its nine members, stands as a primary mechanism for the public to contest the conduct of Supreme Court justices.

Its duties encompass examining and potentially prosecuting judges and court commissioners believed to have breached the state's judicial behavior standards.

The commission includes two attorneys and two judges appointed by the Supreme Court, and five non-legal professionals designated by the governor for three-year stints.

Reflecting on the day's events, Wanggaard stated, "I liked the testimony from all three. From the answers that I got and the demeanor that each one of these candidates brought to today's interview, I think it was pretty positive."