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Lawsuit Filed Against Covert Committee Investigating Impeachment of Wisconsin Justice by Watchdog Group

by Lucas Garcia
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Wisconsin Supreme Court Impeachment

A progressive oversight organization initiated legal action on Monday against a confidential committee that is scrutinizing the grounds for the impeachment of a liberal justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The group has petitioned a judge to mandate the cessation of the committee’s private meetings.

American Oversight’s legal representatives contend in their lawsuit, submitted to the Dane County Circuit Court, that the committee is a public entity and is thus obligated under state legislation to conduct its proceedings in an open forum.

The committee was set up earlier this month by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who is contemplating the extraordinary measure of impeaching Justice Janet Protasiewicz. Vos has not disclosed the identities of those comprising the panel.

In a public statement made on Monday, Vos dismissed the lawsuit as groundless, asserting that it is a desperate tactic by progressive forces to divert attention from the more pressing issue of Justice Protasiewicz’s possible recusal.

David Prosser, a former Justice and onetime Republican Speaker of the Assembly who had supported conservative challengers to Protasiewicz, confirmed his participation in the committee. Of the eight other living former justices—six of whom identify as conservatives—none have publicly acknowledged their involvement. Although justices are officially nonpartisan in Wisconsin, political affiliations have increasingly influenced endorsements.

Last week, two retired liberal justices, Louis Butler and Janine Geske, co-authored an opinion piece stating that the impeachment is unwarranted. Additionally, four retired conservative justices—Jon Wilcox, Dan Kelly, 7th U.S. Circuit Court Chief Judge Diane Sykes, and Louis Ceci—informed The Big Big News that they had not been approached for involvement in the committee.

Vos clarified that another former conservative justice, Michael Gableman, is not part of the committee. Gableman had been employed and subsequently dismissed by Vos to investigate the 2020 election outcomes. Gableman is known for advocating conspiracy theories linked to former President Donald Trump’s electoral defeat in Wisconsin.

Patience Roggensack, the most recently retired conservative justice, declined to comment on her possible involvement when approached by the Associated Press. She did not respond to further queries on Monday.

Heather Sawyer, the executive director of American Oversight, expressed concern over the secrecy surrounding the committee. “Utilizing the threat of impeachment against an elected Supreme Court justice for partisan advantage is fundamentally opposed to democratic principles,” she stated.

Protasiewicz’s appointment in August shifted the balance of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in favor of liberals for the first time in a decade and a half. Her campaign remarks criticizing the state’s partisan, GOP-engineered electoral maps as “unjust” and “manipulated,” along with nearly $10 million in contributions from the Wisconsin Democratic Party, have elicited outrage among Republicans while elevating Democratic expectations for favorable judgements on issues such as redistricting and abortion rights.

The question of whether Protasiewicz will recuse herself from an impending redistricting case remains unresolved, even as Republican legislators demand her recusal and consider impeachment. The decision to recuse is the prerogative of each individual justice.


Harm Venhuizen is affiliated with the Big Big News/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative, a nonprofit program committed to placing journalists in local newsrooms for reporting on issues that are inadequately covered.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Wisconsin Supreme Court Impeachment

What is the lawsuit about?

The lawsuit is filed by American Oversight, a progressive watchdog organization, against a confidential committee set up to investigate the grounds for impeaching Justice Janet Protasiewicz of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The lawsuit aims to force the committee to conduct its proceedings in public, as per state law.

Who initiated the confidential committee?

The confidential committee was initiated by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos earlier this month.

What does American Oversight argue in their lawsuit?

American Oversight contends that the committee, being a governmental body, is legally obligated to conduct its meetings in a public setting according to state legislation.

Has anyone from the committee confirmed their involvement?

Yes, former Justice David Prosser confirmed his participation in the committee. No other living former justices have publicly acknowledged their involvement.

What is the response from Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to the lawsuit?

Robin Vos dismissed the lawsuit as baseless and claims it serves as a diversion tactic by progressive forces to shift focus from the more pressing issue of Justice Protasiewicz’s possible recusal.

Are there any former justices who have commented on the potential impeachment?

Two retired liberal justices, Louis Butler and Janine Geske, have stated in an opinion piece that impeachment is unwarranted. Four retired conservative justices have said they were not approached for participation in the committee.

What issues have made Justice Protasiewicz controversial?

Justice Protasiewicz has been a contentious figure due to her campaign remarks criticizing the state’s partisan, GOP-engineered electoral maps as “unjust” and “manipulated,” and for accepting nearly $10 million in contributions from the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

Is Justice Protasiewicz expected to recuse herself from any cases?

It remains uncertain whether Justice Protasiewicz will recuse herself from an impending redistricting case. The decision to recuse is up to each individual justice.

What organization is reporter Harm Venhuizen affiliated with?

Harm Venhuizen is affiliated with the Big Big News/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative, a nonprofit program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

More about Wisconsin Supreme Court Impeachment

  • American Oversight Official Website
  • Wisconsin State Law on Public Meetings
  • Statement from Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos
  • Opinion Piece by Retired Justices Louis Butler and Janine Geske
  • Report for America Statehouse News Initiative Website
  • Wisconsin Supreme Court Official Website
  • 2020 Wisconsin Election Review
  • Profile of Justice Janet Protasiewicz

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