Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Protasiewicz must hear redistricting cases despite Republican objections

Republican calls for judge to recuse herself aim to counter court's 5-4 liberal majority
Abigail Leavins
Supreme Court

In the face of political polarization, Supreme Court scandals and massive campaign contributions, judicial ethics and conflicts of interest are constantly questioned. Within state elections, judges are indistinguishable from other politicians, running on partisan ideologies. It’s very concerning that a position intended to remain independent of partisan influences has become so influenced by politics.

The recent state Supreme Court election in Wisconsin encapsulates this development perfectly. Topics such as abortion rights and gerrymandering dominated the race between Janet Protasiewicz and Daniel Kelly, with record amounts of money poured into both campaigns from state and national donors.

Now that Protasiewicz has assumed her position on the court, Republicans are calling on her to recuse herself from cases involving gerrymandering. Sen. Ron Johnson, (R-Wis.) argues that her statements along the campaign trail calling the state districts “rigged,” as well as the nearly $9 million in campaign donations from the Democratic Party demonstrate her inability to be impartial.


Despite reservations about an increasingly politicized court system and the influence of money in politics, these arguments are unconvincing. The political context in Wisconsin requires this necessary evil.

The two arguments offered by Johnson are both dubious and in bad faith. The first of his claims is nonsensical — Protasiewicz was not stating an opinion when she said that the current districts are rigged in favor of Republicans.

Objectively, Wisconsin is among the most gerrymandered states in the country. Princeton University’s Gerrymandering Project creates a report card grading every state’s district map along certain criteria. Wisconsin’s current district map received a failing grade for partisan fairness with a noted “significant Republican advantage.” Thus, Protasiewicz’s assertion that Wisconsin is unfairly drawn does not demonstrate she is biased, but rather that she is capable of reading a map.

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The more compelling argument Johnson made is that the political donations she received from the Democratic Party impacts her impartiality. But the context of the race is important for understanding the nature of these donations. The issue of abortion looms large in all political campaigns, especially in Wisconsin.

This election served as a referendum on the future of abortion rights in the state. As a result, massive national attention and partisan donations poured into both campaigns, an unfortunate reality. The fact that Protasiewicz was backed by the Democratic Party does not automatically make her unable to decide issues fairly. She has made no explicit promises about rulings on gerrymandering.

As demonstrated by the federal Supreme Court, justices appointed by presidents do not always decide along party lines. Judicial ideology and political ideology exist in different realms. Protasiewicz is capable of serving as a judge and not a politician on this matter, especially because she is not drawing the map, merely ruling on its equality.

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Not only is Justice Protasiewicz capable of ruling on this issue, but she is also obligated to as an elected official. The election served as a mandate for her to bring a liberal ideology to important issues such as gerrymandering.

Her resounding double-digit victory over Daniel Kelly demonstrates that Wisconsinites are unhappy with the direction the state is headed under Republican leadership. Given the overrepresentation of Republicans in the state legislature, the court is a crucial check.

The Code of Conduct for United States Judges encourages justices to be mindful of politics. The code states “a judge should not become isolated from the society in which the judge lives.” At this time, it is impossible to avoid the influence of politics and ignoring politics in this circumstance would be irresponsible.

Gerrymandering done by any political party is an injustice that threatens the democratic nature of our elections. As an elected official, Janet Protasiewicz is a representative of the people. As a judge, she has the power to achieve the level of equality in elections demanded by the people and by the state’s constitution.

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Republicans in the state are not asking Protasiewicz to recuse herself because they want to maintain the integrity of the courts. This is a shameless attempt to counter the newly achieved 5-4 liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The way the court rules on gerrymandering will directly impact the balance of power in the state legislature. It is hypocritical for these state politicians to accuse Justice Protasiewicz of a conflict of interest. The very practice of redistricting by a political party represents a massive conflict of interest.

Though it is a concerning development that Supreme Court races are becoming increasingly politicized, in Wisconsin, it is necessary. The Republicans are massively overrepresented in the legislature due to institutional factors outside of the control of the people. For this reason, Justice Protasiewicz should and is obligated to represent those who elected her by hearing cases on redistricting.

Thompson Blade ([email protected]) is a sophomore studying economics and data science.

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