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Robin Vos: Impeachment of Janet Protasiewicz still on the table

Despite conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court justices advising Vos not to proceed with impeachment, the Assembly Speaker says it's still an option

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos speaks at a press conference about a deal on a bill to fund local governments in Wisconsin.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, speaks at a press conference on June 8, 2023 about a deal on a bill to fund local governments in Wisconsin. Shawn Johnson/WPR

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says impeachment is still on the table if newly elected Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz and the court’s liberal majority “inject their own political bias” as they hear a lawsuit aimed at overturning the state’s Republican-drawn legislative maps.

Vos’ statements come days after at least two former conservative justices advised the speaker not to impeach Protasiewicz. In a letter to Vos, former conservative Justice David Prosser said impeachment should not be considered unless someone has committed a crime, or committed “corrupt conduct” while in office. On Wednesday, former Justice Jon Wilcox told the Associated Press that impeachment should be reserved for “very serious things.”

Wilcox and Prosser are two members of a panel formed by Vos to advise him on legal options while he and other Republicans pressured Protasiewicz to recuse herself from a redistricting lawsuit because she called GOP voting maps “rigged” before beating conservative former Justice Dan Kelly by 11 points in their April Supreme Court election. A third member of the panel, former conservative Justice Patience Roggensack, has yet to share her advice to Vos.

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Despite the advice he received from Prosser and Wilcox, Vos told reporters Thursday that impeachment is “absolutely not” off the table.

“If you listen to the words that they talk about, especially in David Prosser’s memo that he released, we want to focus on what is occurring in office,” Vos said.

Prosser’s memo states that impeachment is limited to instances where civil officers engage in “corrupt conduct in office, or for crimes and misdemeanors.”

“In my view, ‘corrupt conduct’ is not a term that is open to a mere political grievance,” Prosser wrote. “If that were the case, legislative bodies could be trading questionable impeachments with considerable frequency.”

Prosser did say, however, that Chapter 60 of Supreme Court Rules govern how judges act on cases, especially when it comes to redistricting.

“Ignoring these rules is a serious risk for Justice Protasiewicz,” Prosser wrote.

Vos told reporters if Republicans in the State Assembly see evidence that around $10 million in donations from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin to Protasiewicz’ campaign result in a decision they deem unfair, impeachment will be an option.

On Friday, Protasiewicz denied a formal request from Republican lawyers to step aside in the redistricting lawsuit, saying that she had not prejudged the case. Protasiewicz has promised to recuse herself from cases involving the state Democratic Party, but the party itself is not involved in the current lawsuit.

This week, Vos softened his impeachment rhetoric and offered another potential solution for Republicans to keep their maps, which have been called among the most gerrymandered in the nation. Shortly after Protasiewicz announced she would not recuse herself from the redistricting lawsuit, Vos suggested the U.S. Supreme Court “will have the last word.”

On Thursday, Vos resurfaced the idea of Republicans appealing any redistricting ruling from the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s new liberal majority to the conservative controlled U.S. Supreme Court. He told reporters that “stare decisis,” which holds that judges should honor past court decisions when considering new cases, means the Wisconsin Supreme Court should ultimately favor the GOP maps.

“We know, ultimately, that if they (liberal Wisconsin Justices) decide to inject their own political bias inside the process and not follow the law, we have the ability to go to the Supreme Court, and we also have the ability to hold her accountable to the voters of Wisconsin,” Vos said.

Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Ben Wikler responded by saying Vos’ comments show the speaker is “moving the goalposts” on the potential impeachment of Protasiewicz because some Republican lawmakers have spoken out against the idea.

“Now he’s saying he wants to see how she actually rules on maps,” Wikler said. “Threatening to impeach a justice in a case to which he is a party if she rules in ways that displease him is an outrageous attempt at political extortion in itself. Time will tell if it’s just an attempt to save face. But right now, it’s a climb-down.”

Oral arguments in the redistricting case are set for Nov. 21.