Democrats launch $4 million campaign aimed at protecting Protasiewicz from impeachment

NOW: Democrats launch $4 million campaign aimed at protecting Protasiewicz from impeachment

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Wisconsin Democrats launched a multimillion-dollar effort Wednesday with hope of pressuring Republicans into thinking twice about impeaching the newest state Supreme Court justice.

Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said at a press conference outside the state Capitol the $4 million campaign will include advertising, as well as volunteers knocking on doors.

Protasiewicz, a former Milwaukee County judge who ran as a progressive candidate, defeated conservative Dan Kelly in April by more than 200,000 votes. Her victory gave liberals a new majority on the court, giving progressives hope the new court will strike down the state's current legislative voting maps and the near-total abortion ban.

Democrats said impeaching Protasiewicz would leave a permanent scar on democracy in Wisconsin.

"We are going to go out across the state of Wisconsin with a multimillion-dollar campaign to ensure that every voter knows that the Republicans in our state Legislature are contemplating the nullification of a landslide election that happened mere months ago in our state," Wikler said.

Wikler did not directly answer questions about whether Democrats would organize recall efforts against GOP lawmakers should they vote to impeach Protasiewicz.

Republican legislative leaders have said they'll consider impeachment if Protasiewicz does not recuse herself from a case challenging the voting maps.

At a candidate forum in January, Protasiewicz described the current maps as "rigged."

"If [Protasiewicz doesn't recuse herself], to me, that is a pretty clear violation of the way that all of America works," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) told reporters last week. "As opposed to not pre-judging cases, and it'd be one we'd have to discuss."

Wednesday, State Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha) said outside of a committee hearing at the Capitol he'd need to know more details about any push to impeach Protasiewicz, but he also repeated the familiar GOP criticisms of the new justice.

"I'd have to read the resolution," Allen said. "I think that she has certainly made it clear that she is not an unbiased judge, and that's what we expect of our Supreme Court."

If Republicans impeach Protasiewicz, that would affect how the court handles current lawsuits challenging the GOP-drawn voting maps and the abortion ban. It could also impact any future cases regarding the 2024 election.

In order to impeach a justice, the Assembly must vote to impeach with a simple majority. From there, the Senate would hold a trial where, with a two-thirds majority vote, it could convict and remove a justice.

Republicans currently have an exact two-thirds majority in the state Senate.

Another possibility is the Assembly impeaches Protasiewicz, but the Senate doesn't immediately hold its vote. That would leave the court deadlocked 3-3.

No Wisconsin Supreme Court justice has ever been impeached and removed by the Legislature.

The closest lawmakers have ever come was impeaching a judge in the 1850s, but the Senate did not vote to convict and remove.

Democrats said they hoped given Protasiewicz's decisive victory, any effort to impeach her would lead to Republicans getting punished at the polls next year.

"It's time that Robin [Vos] learns the lesson that many people, including Donald Trump, have picked up very recently," Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard (D-Madison) said. "Elections have consequences, folks, and personal political power does not trump our democracy."

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