Panel Investigating Potential Impeachment in Wisconsin Comprises Former Republican Speaker and Conservative Jurist

by Madison Thomas
Impeachment in Wisconsin

David Prosser, a former Republican justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, is among those selected to examine the possibility of impeaching newly elected Justice Janet Protasiewicz for accepting contributions from the Democratic Party. Prosser himself received financial support from the Wisconsin Republican Party during his tenure on the bench.

Prosser donated $500 to the conservative candidate defeated by Protasiewicz and did not recuse himself from cases concerning laws he had a hand in crafting as a legislator. Additionally, he was subject to an inquiry following a physical dispute with a liberal justice on the court.

The investigation into impeachment criteria has been initiated by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has raised the possibility due to Protasiewicz accepting almost $10 million from the Wisconsin Democratic Party. Vos has also pointed to Protasiewicz’s campaign remarks criticizing the GOP’s gerrymandered electoral maps as “unfair” and “rigged.”

This threat of impeachment emerges after Protasiewicz’s victory provided liberals with a court majority for the first time in 15 years. The development has rejuvenated Democratic ambitions of dismantling Republican electoral maps, safeguarding abortion rights, and revising Republican legislation from the last decade or more.

Simultaneously, Assembly Republicans have advanced a comprehensive bill on redistricting reform, described by Vos as an alternative to impeachment. The Senate Republicans have also moved to dismiss the state’s impartial elections director. Both actions are particularly significant in Wisconsin, a crucial swing state where four of the last six presidential elections were decided by less than one percentage point.

While Vos has refrained from disclosing the members of the confidential three-judge impeachment review panel, Prosser confirmed his involvement to The Big Big News. Of the remaining eight living former justices—six being conservative—none have confirmed their participation. Although justices in Wisconsin are officially non-partisan, party affiliations have recently played a role in backing certain candidates.

Louis Butler, a former liberal justice, and four former conservative justices—Jon Wilcox, Dan Kelly, 7th U.S. Circuit Court Chief Judge Diane Sykes, and Louis Ceci—revealed they were not invited to the panel. Ceci, aged 96 and the oldest living former justice, stated that he had no additional information on the impeachment threats facing Protasiewicz beyond news reports.

Other former justices, including Janine Geske and Michael Gableman, also confirmed their non-participation. Patience Roggensack, the most recently retired conservative justice, declined to comment.

Prosser and Roggensack had voted to permit justices to handle cases involving campaign donors. In 2020, Roggensack was part of the conservative minority in a ruling that narrowly failed to overturn President Joe Biden’s Wisconsin victory. She also endorsed Dan Kelly, Protasiewicz’s conservative opponent, to whom Prosser donated.

Throughout his court service from 1998 to 2016, Prosser frequently opted not to recuse himself from cases connected to laws he had supported during his 18 years as a Republican member of the Assembly. Although he initially recused himself from cases regarding medical malpractice damage caps—a law he had helped establish—he later reversed his stance and penned the majority opinion upholding the law.

In response to questions about the panel’s ideological diversity, Prosser refrained from commenting. Vos suggested that Prosser’s past will not impede his ability to offer impartial advice on impeachment criteria. According to Wisconsin’s Constitution, impeachment is warranted for “corrupt conduct in office or for the commission of a crime or misdemeanor.”

Democrats have dismissed the entire impeachment review process as farcical, arguing that the notion of a clandestine panel advising on an “unconstitutional” impeachment of a justice who hasn’t yet ruled on a case is a mockery.

Vos indicated that impeachment could be justified if Protasiewicz does not recuse herself from two Democratic-backed redistricting lawsuits that challenge Republican-engineered legislative maps. However, Protasiewicz has not pre-judged any case, and it remains a matter of individual discretion for a justice to decide on recusal.

When questioned about whether the panel will have a balanced representation, Vos evaded the query, stating that the panel’s goal is to provide well-informed recommendations to the Legislature on the necessity of impeachment proceedings.

This report has been updated to clarify that Diane Sykes serves as a circuit court judge, not a district court judge.

Contributions to this report were made by Todd Richmond of Big Big News, reporting from Milwaukee.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Impeachment in Wisconsin

What is the main focus of the impeachment review panel in Wisconsin?

The main focus of the impeachment review panel in Wisconsin is to investigate the criteria for potentially impeaching newly elected Justice Janet Protasiewicz. The panel was formed by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who is considering impeachment proceedings against Protasiewicz for accepting nearly $10 million from the Wisconsin Democratic Party and making statements criticizing GOP-drawn electoral maps.

Who are the members of the impeachment review panel?

The specific members of the three-judge impeachment review panel have not been fully disclosed by Speaker Robin Vos. However, it is confirmed that former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser is a member. None of the other eight living former justices, six of whom are conservatives, have indicated their involvement.

What is the political significance of Justice Protasiewicz’s election?

Justice Janet Protasiewicz’s election gave liberals a majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court for the first time in 15 years. This has raised hopes among Democrats that the court might overturn Republican-drawn electoral maps and other GOP-enacted laws.

What is the background of David Prosser, a member of the review panel?

David Prosser is a former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice who served from 1998 to 2016. He also spent 18 years as a Republican member of the Wisconsin Assembly, two of those years as its Speaker. Prosser has a history of not recusing himself from cases involving laws he helped to pass and was once investigated for a physical altercation with a liberal justice.

Why is the impeachment review panel controversial?

The panel is considered controversial due to the partisan background of its known member, David Prosser, and the secrecy surrounding its other members. Critics, including the Wisconsin Democratic Party, argue that the entire process is a politically motivated “charade.”

What does Speaker Robin Vos say about Protasiewicz’s conduct?

Speaker Robin Vos argues that impeachment may be warranted if Justice Protasiewicz does not recuse herself from two Democratic-backed redistricting lawsuits that seek to challenge GOP-drawn legislative maps. Vos contends that Protasiewicz has already prejudged the cases.

What is the public stance of other former justices on the review panel?

Other former justices, both liberal and conservative, have generally indicated that they were not asked to participate in the review panel. For example, Louis Butler, a former liberal justice, and four former conservative justices have stated they were not asked to serve.

What are the legal requirements for impeachment under the Wisconsin Constitution?

Under the Wisconsin Constitution, impeachment is reserved for “corrupt conduct in office or for the commission of a crime or misdemeanor.” Each justice has the discretion to decide whether recusal in a case is warranted.

Is there a precedent for justices sitting on cases involving campaign donors?

Yes, both Prosser and the most recently retired justice, Patience Roggensack, voted to enact a rule allowing justices to sit on cases involving campaign donors. The conservative majority of the court adopted this rule, which has been contentious.

What are the next steps in this impeachment process?

The next steps are largely dependent on the recommendations of the impeachment review panel. Speaker Robin Vos has stated that he hopes the panel will provide “good information” for the Legislature to act on, potentially proceeding with impeachment.

More about Impeachment in Wisconsin

  • Wisconsin Supreme Court
  • Biography of Justice Janet Protasiewicz
  • Overview of David Prosser’s Career
  • Role and Powers of the Wisconsin Assembly Speaker
  • Wisconsin’s Redistricting Lawsuits
  • Legal Criteria for Impeachment in Wisconsin
  • History of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices
  • Controversies Surrounding Wisconsin’s Judiciary
  • Role of Political Parties in Judicial Elections
  • Campaign Financing Laws in Wisconsin

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Karen Green September 15, 2023 - 7:54 pm

Isn’t Prosser the guy who got into a physical fight with another justice? And now he’s in a position to judge? The irony…

Sophia Brown September 15, 2023 - 9:18 pm

So much for judicial independence! Why can’t they just let the court do its job?

Sara Jenkins September 15, 2023 - 9:55 pm

Let me get this straight. Prosser himself accepted GOP money and now he’s judging someone for accepting Dem money? Makes zero sense.

Emily Williams September 15, 2023 - 11:32 pm

Unbelievable. First, they try to control the court by gerrymandering, and now this? What’s next?

Tim Parker September 15, 2023 - 11:37 pm

Looks like the old saying is true, ‘Politics ruins everything.’ Even the judiciary isn’t safe anymore.

Henry Lee September 16, 2023 - 12:10 pm

So, transparency’s out the window then? Secret panels investigating judges, seriously? What happened to checks and balances?

Mike O'Neal September 16, 2023 - 12:46 pm

what are we even talking about? Isn’t the court supposed to be nonpartisan? This is so far from it, it’s not even funny.

Rachel Adams September 16, 2023 - 2:10 pm

If the justice has prejudged cases, thats one thing. But doesn’t look like thats the case here. This is just political maneuvering.

John Smith September 16, 2023 - 3:23 pm

Wow, this whole situation seems like a political circus. Impeaching a justice for campaign donations and opinions? Seems kinda hypocritical considering Prosser’s past.

Alan Cooper September 16, 2023 - 3:54 pm

This story has more twists and turns than a thriller movie. But it’s real life and it’s concerning. What’s the end game here?


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