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Vos consulting former justices on potential Protasiewicz impeachment

GOP Assembly Speaker says he would prefer Democrats support Republican redistricting plan than spend taxpayer money on court battles over recusal, impeachment

Wisconsin's Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos
Wisconsin’s Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos talks to the media after Gov. Tony Evers’ State of the State speech at the state Capitol, Feb. 15, 2022, in Madison, Wis. Wisconsin Republican lawmakers on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023, proposed a nonpartisan redistricting plan they want to enact ahead of the 2024 election to preempt the liberal-controlled state Supreme Court from tossing the current GOP-drawn maps. Andy Manis/AP File Photo

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says former members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court are advising him on the potential impeachment of liberal Justice Janet Protasiewicz.

During a Wednesday morning appearance on WISN’s The Jay Weber Show, Vos, R-Rochester, said he’s formed a panel of former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices to “review and advise what the criteria are for impeachment” of Justice Protasiewicz if she refuses to recuse herself from lawsuits before the court seeking to overturn GOP drawn voting maps. He said he would not name the justices while their review was underway.

Vos and other Republicans claim Protasiewicz has prejudged the redistricting cases because she called GOP voting maps “rigged” on the campaign trail ahead of defeating conservative former Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly by 11 points.

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His comments came the day after a surprise press conference on Tuesday when Vos announced a Republican bill had been introduced to create an “Iowa-style” nonpartisan redistricting process in Wisconsin. Republicans are fast-tracking the bill, which creates a redistricting process similar to one they had previously opposed.

Democrats, including Gov. Tony Evers, quickly voiced opposition to the plan, claiming Vos cannot be trusted. They say legislation could give Republicans a chance to draw their own maps.

Vos told Weber impeachment is the “last thing I want to happen” and would prefer to see Wisconsin’s redistricting rules be changed rather than have the state go through potential court battles over recusal and impeachment.

“But if you have a justice that has predetermined cases and is not going to take themself off the case, I want to know what all of our options are so that we are ready to go if it is required,” Vos said.

State Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard, D-Madison, told Wisconsin Public Radio it’s “vitally important” to remember that Vos “created gerrymandered maps” and has been unwilling to consider reforming the state’s redistricting process as Democrats and their supporters have called for in the past.

Agard noted Vos and Republicans are set to vote on the redistricting bill Thursday without offering any opportunity for public comment.

Vos accused Democrats of being “hypocrites” for opposing legislation that is similar to what they introduced in 2021. Their plan at that time was also based on Iowa’s redistricting process.

“If they are so certain that they have a justice in their pocket, because they don’t even want to take an idea that has been their own for 20 years, it certainly says to me that the process in the Supreme Court is even more rigged than what they say the maps are,” Vos said.

Agard said there’s no guarantee Democrats would reintroduce their 2021 redistricting bill, but they’re still interested in changing how maps are drawn.

“The Supreme Court would very likely come up with a solution for right now,” Agard said. “But as we move forward after future censuses, we could find ourselves in the same spot. So we need to come up with a long term solution that prevents us from fighting up in the same place again.”

Without Gov. Evers’ support, the GOP redistricting plan appears doomed. It’s also unclear whether Republicans in the state Senate would support it. WPR emails sent to State Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, Tuesday afternoon went unanswered.

While the bill outlines a process that is similar to how Iowa draws it’s voting maps, Senior Staff Attorney Derek Clinger of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School’s State Democracy Research Initiative told WPR there’s one key difference that “could be exploited for partisan gain.”

He said the GOP legislation would require Wisconsin’s nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau to draw maps that would need to be approved by legislators and the governor. If lawmakers reject two of the LRB maps, they would be allowed to draw their own maps on a third attempt.

“And I think that would open the door for the legislature adopting a map that gives path an advantage to one party or favors incumbents,” Clinger said.

Vos has downplayed those concerns, claiming Evers could simply veto maps he feels have a Republican advantage. But Clinger said that only works with split-party government.

“I suppose that counts as a check, as long as there’s a Democratic governor,” Clinger said. “But thinking long term, who knows who will be in the governor’s seat the next time or the time after that and the time after that.”

The Wisconsin Assembly is scheduled to vote on the Republican redistricting plan at 1 p.m. Thursday.