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Wisconsin GOP congressmen call for Protasiewicz recusal in new maps case

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has not yet said whether it will hear a lawsuit challenging the state's Congressional maps

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz smiles as she waves to the other attendees.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz is introduced along with other justices before Gov. Tony Evers’ State of the State address Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Five Republican members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation are calling on Justice Janet Protasiewicz to recuse herself from hearing a case that seeks to redraw the state’s congressional districts.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has not yet said whether it will hear the case, which was filed earlier this month and draws upon an earlier court ruling that overturned Wisconsin’s state legislative maps.

When the high court ruled the legislative maps unconstitutional, it changed the standard by which the court evaluates redistricting. The lawsuit challenging the congressional maps argues that they must be redrawn according to that changed standard, too.

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In a court filing Monday, five of the six Wisconsin Republicans who sit in the U.S. House of Representatives intervened in a motion calling on Protasiewicz to recuse herself from hearing the case if it comes before the state Supreme Court.

The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, or WILL, and the GOP-held state Legislature also signed onto the call for recusal.

The petitioners argue that Protasiewicz pre-judged the case while on the campaign trail and has a personal interest in its outcome because the Democratic Party of Wisconsin donated $10 million to her campaign.

In particular, they point to comments she made when campaigning for office last spring criticizing the makeup of Wisconsin’s delegation in Washington, where six of eight seats are held by Republicans.

They also argue that the Democratic Party dollars backing her candidacy incentivized Protasiewicz to rule in favor of new maps, which would likely decrease the number of Republican districts.

“A justice cannot decide a case she has prejudged or when her participation otherwise creates a serious risk of actual bias,” the filing argues. “Justice Protasiewicz’s public campaign statements establish a constitutionally intolerable risk that she has prejudged the merits of this case.”

These same arguments were levied against Protasiewicz during the court case that resulted in the state legislative maps being overturned. Protasiewicz declined to recuse, and that case was ultimately decided 4-3, with the liberal majority — Protasiewicz included — finding those maps unconstitutional.

While those districts are in the process of being redrawn, it is expected that any outcome will decrease Republican representation in the state Senate and Assembly.

The congressional lawsuit could likewise change Wisconsin’s national representation. Six of the state’s eight congressional districts are currently held by Republicans, and only two are seen as competitive.

The lawsuit contends that new congressional maps would offer voters more fair representation in a purple state.

One of Wisconsin’s Republican members of Congress — U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden — did not sign onto the petition for recusal. Van Orden’s 3rd Congressional District, which comprises much of western Wisconsin and the cities of Eau Claire, La Crosse and Stevens Point, is seen as the state’s most competitive U.S. House seat.

Those who did sign on include U.S. Reps. Bryan Steil, Glenn Grothman, Mike Gallagher, Tom Tiffany and Scott Fitzgerald.

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