Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Refuses to Remove Herself From Case

By Victor Winston, updated on October 25, 2023

A Wisconsin Supreme Court justice is under fire for not recusing herself from a case she had previously campaigned on.

Justice Janet Protasiewicz, who had openly criticized a legislative redistricting plan during her campaign, will now be part of the bench deciding on its legality.

Justice Protasiewicz's election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court was a significant win for the Democrats. She took office on August 1, 2023, replacing a conservative justice.

This shift in the court's composition has raised eyebrows, especially given the contentious nature of the redistricting plan in question.

Background of the Redistricting Controversy

Following the recent census, the Republican-led legislature in Wisconsin redrew the legislative districts. As expected, this move was met with opposition from the Democrats, leading to a lawsuit.

During her campaign for the Supreme Court, Protasiewicz had been vocal about her disapproval of the redistricting, labeling it as a partisan gerrymander, Breitbart reported.

With Protasiewicz now on the bench, the court has decided, in a 4-3 vote, to hear the case. This decision has sparked concerns, as many believe that her involvement could lead to a biased ruling, especially given her previous statements on the matter.

During her campaign, Protasiewicz had described the proposed map as "unfair" and "rigged." She had expressed her eagerness to revisit the gerrymandering issue and had shown agreement with a dissenting opinion from a previous case on the topic.

Decision to Stay on the Case

In a detailed 64-page order, Protasiewicz announced her decision to remain on the case. She acknowledged the strong emotions surrounding the issue but stated that after consulting the law and her conscience, she felt it was right for her to hear the case.

However, this decision has not been without its critics. Chief Justice Annette Ziegler expressed her dissent, suggesting that the decision to hear the case seemed more politically motivated than based on sound judicial reasoning.

Justice Rebecca Bradley also voiced her concerns, specifically pointing out the likelihood of bias on Protasiewicz's part. She stated that the "probability of actual bias on Protasiewicz’s part likely approaches 100 percent."

Constitutional Implications and Precedents

The Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause ensures that no individual is deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. This clause is crucial in the current scenario, as it touches upon the issue of judicial bias.

In the 2009 case of Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was a violation of due process for a judge to hear a case if there appeared to be bias. This case is particularly relevant as it involved a state supreme court justice hearing a case where one of the litigants had made significant campaign contributions.

In the current situation, the Wisconsin Democratic Party had contributed a whopping $10 million to Protasiewicz's campaign. This sum is three times the amount involved in the Caperton case, raising serious questions about potential bias.

Looking Ahead: Potential Outcomes

Given the clear stance Protasiewicz has taken on the redistricting issue, many are concerned about the outcome of the case. The precedent set by the Caperton case suggests that significant campaign contributions can create a "probability of actual bias."

Justice Bradley, in her dissent, has argued that publicly announcing a position on a matter further increases the likelihood of bias, potentially crossing constitutional boundaries.

Once the Wisconsin Supreme Court delivers its verdict, the U.S. Supreme Court will have the authority to review any due process violations, adding another layer of complexity to this already contentious issue.

Conclusion

  • Justice Janet Protasiewicz's decision to remain on a case she campaigned against has raised concerns about potential bias.
  • The redistricting plan, redrawn by the Republican-led legislature, has been a point of contention between the two major parties.
  • Previous cases, such as Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., highlight the constitutional implications of potential judicial bias.
  • The significant campaign contributions to Protasiewicz's campaign further complicate the matter.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court may have the final say, depending on the Wisconsin Supreme Court's ruling.

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About Victor Winston

Victor is a freelance writer and researcher who focuses on national politics, geopolitics, and economics.

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