April 4, voters in the 8th State Senate District, consisting primarily of the northern Milwaukee suburbs, narrowly chose Republican Dan Knodl over Democrat Jodi Habush Sinykin. While overshadowed by the state Supreme Court race, this special election gave Republicans a supermajority in the state Senate, granting them the power to override Gov. Tony Evers’ vetoes and to impeach officials and judges.
Knodl, along with other Republican senators, have floated the idea of impeaching liberal Justice-elect Janet Protasiewicz, who will not start her 10-year term on the Court until August. When Protasiewicz is sworn in, the Court will have a liberal majority for the first time since 2008. The new majority may reverse conservative decisions on redistricting and a host of other issues granted by the previous bench.
While this is unlikely to happen — Republicans cannot afford a single defection in the Senate, and Evers would appoint her replacement — it is dangerous to propose removing a popularly elected judge for political gain. It undermines confidence in the court and legislature. Weakening the legitimacy of both the court and legislature undermines trust in government and increases political apathy, growing issues that should not be promoted.
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Republican dominance in the legislature dates back to 2010. Riding the backlash of the Obama presidency and the Affordable Care Act, Republicans gained control of the governorship, Senate and Assembly simultaneously. This was just in time to cement their advantage by controlling the decade’s redistricting cycle. The maps adopted were incredibly favorable to incumbent Republicans. Despite winning a majority of votes cast in 2012, Democrats were relegated to be permanently in the minority.
Republicans retained this advantage into the 2020 redistricting cycle. When the legislature and governor couldn’t agree on maps, the issue was thrown to the state Supreme Court. There, the conservative majority opted for a “least change framework” that maintained the Republican bias of the original maps, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.
Unless the new liberal majority strikes down the current maps, the state Senate and Assembly will continue to fail to be representative of the state. There is no path for Democrats to be competitive in the legislature under these maps, leading to underinvestment in legislative races and a majority with little incentive to be responsive to the public.
If the majority’s seats are designed to be safe in reelection, then there is no way for the public to hold them accountable in anything except the most extreme scenarios. Pressuring unpopular policies will not cost Republican legislators their seats or their position in the majority — giving them little incentive to stop.
The newly-minted Republican supermajority is a clear demonstration of how unrepresentative the Wisconsin Legislature is. As long as the current maps are in place, this will not change.