Wisconsin’s Republican leaders thought they had found a clever way to stay in power forever. Then, the voters spoiled their plan by electing a liberal judge and setting up a political showdown for the ages. Here’s what’s happening.
The results of the 2010 U.S. census gave state lawmakers everywhere the chance to reconfigure their voting maps to better map the new understanding of population distribution.
That same year, Republicans tilted the balance of power in Wisconsin by picking up several new state assembly seats in the midterm elections.
So, it was no real surprise that the conservatives used their newfound power to gerrymander the state’s voting districts in their favor.
The first order of business was to make sure that as many Democrat voters as possible fit within the large Milwaukee and Madison districts.
A Republican Playground
That left the rest of the state as a playground for Republicans. And the results have proved their plan was effective.
In the 2018 midterm elections, for example, Democrats picked up 53% of the popular vote for assembly seats. But they only gained one seat, which left Republicans with a whopping 63 of the total 99 seats.
It looked like the state’s Republican congress had built a moat around itself that might last forever.
But then left-leaning Janet Protasiewicz was voted into a vacant seat on the state’s supreme court. She stepped into space left when conservative Patience D. Roggensack retired after 20 years on the bench.
“The Maps Are Wrong”
As Protasiewicz prepared to be sworn in, a civil rights group filed a lawsuit with the Wisconsin Supreme Court to challenge the electoral map drawn up by Republicans.
In response, the press ran to Protasiewicz and asked her how she would vote on the case.
While the new high-court justice said she wouldn’t comment on the filing specifically, she laid her cards on the table.
“I can’t tell you what I would do on a particular case, but I can tell you my values, and the maps are wrong,” she said.
Tilted to the Left
That gave Republicans in the assembly heartburn because Protasiewicz tilted the high court toward the left, from four judges to three.
So those representatives started planning right away, and they had some options for how to stop Protasiewicz from foiling their domination.
The most obvious ploy for Republicans is to bring impeachment proceedings against Protasiewicz on the grounds that she is not impartial. She’s already given her two cents on the case, after all.
And, while Republicans might struggle to get the votes they need to actually remove Protasiewicz from office in the Senate, they may not need that extreme a victory.
A Deep Divide
If the assembly votes to impeach Protasiewicz, then the Republican-led senate could just choose not to proceed with a trial right away. They’d be icing Protasiewicz, essentially.
Then, the Supreme Court would likely hear the gerrymandering case with just six justices in place, splitting the right-left votes, at least on the surface.
One more wrinkle to all this is that Governor Tony Evers vowed to do whatever he could to stop Republicans from interfering with the court case.
Whatever the outcome, the gerrymandering fiasco in Wisconsin just highlights the deep divide in the state and the country at large. You can just about bet there’s plenty more to come.
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Patrick Lansing