The Wisconsin Supreme Court has made a significant transformation with a new liberal justice being sworn in. This has caused the state’s judicial landscape to shift with almost immediate changes that have raised conflict about the court’s direction.
A New Justice In Town
In the heart of the Wisconsin State Capitol, the new justice took her oath, pledging to execute her duties “faithfully and impartially.”
This marked the start of a liberal wave in a court that had been historically dominated by conservative views.
The swift repercussions of this shift were undeniable. The new majority promptly restructured the court’s leadership, stripping responsibilities from the conservative chief justice and dismissing the administrative director—a former conservative judge.
These abrupt changes triggered accusations of a “coup” from the chief justice and even led Republican lawmakers to consider the impeachment of the newly appointed justice.
Record Breaking Election
Traditionally, liberal groups had perceived the court as unfavorable terrain. However, with this transformation, they seized the opportunity to drive progress on significant issues.
Lawsuits were filed to challenge the state’s legislative district boundaries, which leaned in favor of Republicans.
Then, the Democratic attorney general tried to expedite a case concerning a 19th-century law that had restricted doctors from offering abortions in Wisconsin.
The monumental shift in the Wisconsin Supreme Court has reverberated throughout the state’s policy and political domains.
This change is attributed to a record-breaking April election, where a staggering $50 million was spent by campaigns and interest groups.
Out With the Old, In With the New
The retirement of a conservative justice brought about this shift, potentially influencing crucial rulings in a swing state that could impact the outcome of the 2024 presidential election.
Janet Protasiewicz, the new liberal justice, won by a significant margin, bestowing a 4-3 liberal majority upon her swearing-in on August 1.
During her campaign, Protasiewicz vocally supported abortion rights and criticized gerrymandered electoral maps that had given Republicans disproportionate legislative power.
While Protasiewicz’s campaign resonated with many voters, it also created some concerns that judges were transforming into politicians rather than impartial arbitrators.
A Trend Across America
This transformation in Wisconsin’s court system mirrors the broader trend across the United States. State supreme courts have gained prominence, often becoming arbiters of election outcomes and abortion policies due to political polarization and deadlocked state legislatures.
The Wisconsin court’s shift occurred closely after conservative takeovers in North Carolina and Ohio, all of this showcasing the increasing partisanship of judicial races.
In response to this trend, conservatives in Wisconsin are exploring strategies to safeguard their interests, with some Wisconsin conservatives advocating for constitutional amendments to secure their previous wins.
Simultaneously, liberals are taking an offensive stance by starting legal actions on various fronts in the hopes of leveraging the newly acquired majority.
The tensions between the justices have already become obvious, with some justices publicly criticizing each other hours after the new judge was sworn in.
While the reception of this transformation remains diverse, with both praise and criticism from different quarters, it is evident that the court’s dynamics have undergone a serious shift.
However, Marquette University law professor and former Justice Janine Geske said in an interview about Protasiewicz, “There are going to be surprises on some of the cases, I think. … There are going to be some people that are unhappy sometimes. She is not going to be the liberal Democrat on each case.”
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