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Wisconsin GOP threatens to impeach Supreme Court justice over donations, but conservatives also took party money

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans talking about removing a state Supreme Court justice before she heard a case point to the nearly $10 million she received from the Party Democrat as evidence that she cannot fairly rule on redistricting cases that could weaken the Republican Party’s hold on the Legislature.

But the state’s Republican Party and other conservative groups have donated campaign money to other sitting judges, and they don’t recuse themselves in cases involving donors. All but one of the sitting judges — liberal Ann Walsh Bradley — have received party contributions at the national, state or county level, according to data from Wisconsin’s Campaign Finance System and analysis by Wisconsin Democracy. Campaign, which tracks election spending.

Conservative Justices Brian Hagedorn and Rebecca Bradley received contributions from the state’s Republican Party totaling approximately $150,000 and $70,000, respectively. The state Democratic Party has given more than $1.3 million to liberal Justice Jill Karofsky’s campaign.

“That’s what I call selective outrage,” said Jay Heck, a longtime Wisconsin Supreme Court watcher and director of Common Cause of Wisconsin, a nonpartisan government watchdog group. “It’s incredibly hypocritical.”

There has been no outrage from Republicans when conservative justices have heard numerous cases over the years involving their conservative donors, Heck said.

When asked on Thursday whether he thinks judges who have received Republican Party money should recuse themselves from redistricting cases, Republican House Majority Leader Tyler August tried to make a distinction with Protasiewicz.

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“She clearly prejudged the case,” August said. “We’re talking about this case, this justice, and I’ll leave it at that.”

The focus on the Wisconsin Supreme Court follows a trend of increasing scrutiny of state judges across the country.

State Supreme Court races have become some of the most publicized political contests in every election cycle, as they have become battlegrounds over abortion access, voting rights, redistricting and redistricting. other burning issues. During the 2019-20 election cycle, some $97 million was invested in state Supreme Court races, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Thirty-three states will hold elections for their High Court seats in 2024.

In Wisconsin, judges are not required to waive hearing cases involving campaign donors.

Conservative majorities on the court approved rules allowing judges to hear cases involving their campaign donors in 2010 and rejected a call for clearer recusal standards in 2017.

Still, some Republicans cite the nearly $10 million Judge Janet Protasiewicz received from the Wisconsin Democratic Party as the reason she is stepping down from redistricting cases. Some threaten possible indictment if she does not. Protasiewicz opponent Dan Kelly has received more than $1.2 million from the Republican Party, mostly at the state level.

The maps drawn by Wisconsin Republicans, signed into law in 2011 and then again last year with few changes, are widely considered to be among the most gerrymanded in the country. Republicans have increased their majorities in the Legislature according to the maps, even as Democrats have won statewide elections, including those for President Joe Biden and Governor Tony Evers in 2022.

None of the sitting judges immediately responded to an email sent Thursday to the court’s chief information officer asking if they would recuse themselves in cases involving their campaign supporters. None of the judges recused themselves from redistricting cases last year.

Protasiewicz won the April elections by 11 points. Her victory gave liberals a majority in court, boosting hopes among Democrats that the bill would overturn the state’s 1849 abortion ban and reject Republican legislative election maps.

She attended her first hearing on Thursday, joining other judges in asking questions of defenders who are calling for a rule change affecting eviction cases. She is due to hear arguments in her first case in court next week.

Days after he took office in August, pro-Democrat groups filed two lawsuits asking the Supreme Court to strike down Republican-drafted legislative maps.

GOP leaders were quick to ask Protasiewicz to recuse herself, pointing to both Democratic Party donations and comments she made during the campaign that the cards were “unfair” and “rigged.”

Republicans say she prejudged the case and cannot hear it fairly.

The same complaints against her were filed during her campaign with the Wisconsin Judiciary Commission, which investigates judges. This panel dismissed the complaints.

Democrats on Wednesday rebuffed impeachment threats, announcing a $4 million public relations campaign against Republican Party members making them. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has been the staunchest advocate for possible impeachment, said the expensive campaign only showed even more that Protasiewicz and the Democratic Party “are one”.

If Protasiewicz doesn’t recuse himself, Vos claims, then Republicans will consider impeachment. The threats were denounced by Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler as “political extortion.”

The 2010 rule that allowed judges to hear cases involving their campaign donors was drafted in part by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s chamber of commerce. He had spent more than $2 million to help elect Chief Justice Annette Ziegler, who voted for the measure under a conservative majority on the court.

Three years earlier, Ziegler had refused to recuse herself in a WMC-backed case in which she ultimately wrote a majority opinion that earned her hundreds of millions of dollars in professional tax refunds. As a county judge, Ziegler had heard cases involving a bank of which her husband served on the board of directors and companies in which she held stock.

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Former conservative judge Michael Gableman also refused to step down from a case involving Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which spent about $1.8 million supporting his campaign in 2008.

Conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote the order in 2017 rejecting the retired judges’ appeal to create a recusal standard for cases involving donors. She called the request “shocking in its disregard for the Constitution of Wisconsin and the Constitution of the United States, particularly the First Amendment.”

But last month, she called out Protasiewicz for not recused herself from the redistricting challenge. She also cited Democratic Party campaign donations and campaign commentary.

Bradley argued that the new liberal majority “will adopt new maps to deflect power from Republicans and give electoral advantage to Democratic candidates, fulfilling one of Protasiewicz’s many promises to his top campaign funder.”

Protasiewicz promised during the campaign to recuse himself from any case brought by the Democratic Party over donations he made to him, even though Supreme Court rules do not require it. The Democratic Party has not carried any of the current redistricting cases, although Democrats would benefit from the drawing of new maps.

“The rules and parameters for recusal were put in place by conservatives and by Republicans,” said Heck, of Common Cause. “If they don’t like the current situation, they just have to think about their own behavior.”

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