Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz’s landslide April victory continues to be an existential threat to state Republicans, who have gerrymandered the state so aggressively as to be assured permanent legislative control no matter who voters choose.
For months, Republicans have been plotting how best to overturn her election, as two redistricting lawsuits were immediately filed at the state’s high court. In recent weeks, they’ve been coalescing around impeaching her, settling on the rationale that she called the state’s maps “rigged.” Notably, state Republicans have not brought the same ire to Justices Rebecca Bradley and Brian Hagedorn continuing to preside over abortion cases after likening abortion to the Holocaust and calling Planned Parenthood a “wicked organization,” respectively.
On Tuesday, the lawmakers came forward with a new plan.
Rather than watch their carefully crafted maps — which ensure their dominance even when Democrats win well over 50 percent of the vote — fall at the state Supreme Court, they’re suddenly on board with a “nonpartisan” redistricting process. The plan would entail legislators’ staffers drawing up the maps, which then the legislature and governor would have to approve.
But there’s an additional catch written in to favor the Republican legislators.
“If the second bill is similarly rejected by at least one house, the same procedure applies, except that the third bill is subject to amendment in the same manner as other bills,” the plan reads.
So, after voting down two of the maps, the Republicans legislators could make changes directly.
The plan is modeled after one in Iowa — where the legislators have simply voted down the maps until they become Republican-leaning enough for their liking. In 2021, the Iowa legislature only approved a map when it eliminated a long-held Democratic seat and gave the whole congressional congregation to Republicans.
“Now, with the possibility that fair maps and nonpartisan redistricting may be coming to Wisconsin whether they like it or not, Republicans are making a last-ditch effort to retain legislative control by having someone Legislature-picked and Legislature-approved draw Wisconsin’s maps,” Gov. Tony Evers (D) said in a statement. “That is bogus.”
The Republicans announced the new plan on the heels of the news that Wisconsin Democrats will pour millions into an ad campaign to pressure the most vulnerable Republicans to back off the Protasiewicz impeachment push.
The legislature-controlled redistricting plan is just the latest episode in Wisconsin Republicans’ alarming authoritarian bender, in which they’ve gone after both Protasiewicz and the state’s top election official, Meagan Wolfe, after only just barely turning back Trump’s attempt to steal the state’s electoral votes in 2020.
“Republicans have spent years and millions in taxpayer dollars working to overturn and undermine our elections, fueling baseless conspiracy theories, funding Gableman’s sham ‘investigation,’ and passing even more gerrymandered maps than the ones we had before,” Evers fumed. “Republicans have spent the last several weeks threatening to impeach a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice and pushing radical plans to throw Wisconsin’s Elections Commission into chaos by attempting to illegally fire the elections administrator they approved with unanimous, bipartisan support just a few years ago.”
They also stripped Evers of considerable power in a lame duck session just after he’d been elected in 2018.
As they’ve been mulling how best to go after Protasiewicz, the state Republicans tacked on that she must recuse herself from the redistricting cases, both because of the “rigged” comment and because she took money from the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is not actually a petitioner in either of the cases, but the argument seems to be that Democrats broadly support redistricting reform, so it’s somehow a conflict of interest. Legislators have not applied the same logic to justices supported by the Republican Party.
They could also use the procedure of impeachment to defang both Protasiewicz and Evers, impeaching her in the Assembly, then delaying the Senate trial indefinitely to keep the seat vacant.
The threat of actual democracy has convulsed the state government, while state Democrats express their outrage from their manufactured permanent minority.
“A Legislature that has now repeatedly demonstrated they will not uphold basic tenets of our democracy — and will bully, threaten, or fire on a whim anyone who happens to disagree with them — cannot be trusted to appoint or oversee someone charged with drawing fair maps,” Evers said.