Wis. lawmakers must respect voters and ditch Protasiewicz impeachment plans


A partisan effort to baselessly impeach newly elected Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz must be rejected, insists the FFRF Action Fund.

The judicial race earlier this year received unprecedented national attention because a Protasiewicz victory meant the end of a longstanding right-wing majority on the state high court. Wisconsin’s Republican lawmakers, who have long enjoyed control of the Legislature due to gerrymandered districts, knew that tipping the balance of the state’s top court could threaten their dictatorial grip on the Statehouse.

Ostensibly, those lawmakers are objecting to comments Protasiewicz made on the campaign trail regarding enforcement of Wisconsin’s Civil War-era draconian abortion ban and the state’s objectively rigged district maps. Republicans are scrambling to preserve their undemocratic control and religiously motivated restrictions over reproductive rights in Wisconsin. A partisan group of lawmakers demanded that Protasiewicz recuse herself from any cases involving abortion rights or gerrymandering. Protasiewicz has rightfully refused, and now they are talking impeachment even though a state judiciary disciplinary panel has independently confirmed that Protasiewicz’s comments did not constitute an ethics violation. 

Crucially, while Protasiewicz made open (and reasonable) comments on abortion rights and “rigged maps,” she made no promises or other indications on how she would rule in any particular case. The fact is that judicial candidates in Wisconsin have long been open about their beliefs on various topics that may come before the court. So long as the newly elected justices do not prejudge specific cases, they have never been expected to recuse themselves from topics they have spoken on. 

To give two recent examples, prior to joining the court, Justice Brian Hagedorn compared homosexuality to bestiality,  called Planned Parenthood a “wicked organization”  and wrote that “Christianity is the correct religion, and that insofar as others contradict it, they are wrong.” He has insisted in the past that such statements would not require his recusal. None of the lawmakers now calling for impeachment have asked Hagedorn to recuse himself from cases involving these topics or parties, nor has he done so.

In 2016, now-Justice Rebecca Bradley openly campaigned on her support of the National Rifle Association’s version of the Second Amendment, and was even pictured holding a shotgun and wearing an NRA hat in a political mailer. Bradley’s position on gun rights has led to predictable results since she joined the court. Prior to her time on the bench, Bradley also wrote against homosexuality, feminism and abortion. Again, none of the lawmakers now calling for Protasiewicz’s impeachment expected Bradley to recuse herself from cases involving any of these topics.

By holding elections for state supreme court seats, unfortunately, judicial elections become politically charged, which is why former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor valiantly campaigned against elected state supreme courts. While Wisconsin voters may base votes to some extent on judicial philosophy or temperament, for better or worse they may also base voting decisions on the judge’s personal beliefs on specific topics.

The current impeachment push is nothing more than hypocritical partisan gamesmanship.

Says FFRF Action Fund President Annie Laurie Gaylor: “Lawmakers who defy this clear will of Wisconsin voters are not only hypocrites, but are also openly disregarding basic principles of democracy and the separation of powers. Those who continue to push for impeachment are valuing their own personal power over the will of Wisconsinites, and have no business remaining in the Wisconsin Legislature.”
Earlier this week, a group of Wisconsin voters filed a lawsuit to block the baseless impeachment push. The FFRF Action Fund will be watching this case closely and trusts that members of the highest court — especially Justices Hagedorn and Bradley, who have not recused themselves from cases on topics discussed prior to their time on the bench — will come to the correct conclusion.

FFRF Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that develops and advocates for legislation, regulations, and government programs to preserve the constitutional principle of separation between state and church. It also advocates for the rights and views of nonbelievers, endorses candidates for political office, and publicizes the views of elected officials concerning religious liberty issues. FFRF Action Fund serves as the advocacy arm of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has more than 40,000 members and works to keep religion out of government and educate the public about nontheism.