Commentary

Supreme Court impeachment threat amounts to extortion

September 7, 2023 5:30 am
Blind figure of Justice holding scales | Getty Images Creative

Blind figure of Justice holding scales | Getty Images Creative

Nothing more clearly demonstrates the evils of our Legislature’s extreme gerrymandering than the brazen extortion plot hatched by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Republicans in the Legislature against Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz and the one-million-plus voters who elected her. “Rule as we instruct you to rule,” they say to Justice Protasiewicz, “or we will throw you out of office.”

In every other context, extortion is a crime in Wisconsin, punishable by up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Wisconsin Statute sec. 943.30(1):

(1) Whoever, either verbally or by any written or printed communication, maliciously threatens to accuse or accuses another of any crime or offense, or threatens or commits any injury to the person, property, business, profession, calling or trade, or the profits and income of any business, profession, calling or trade of another, with intent thereby to extort money or any pecuniary advantage whatever, or with intent to compel the person so threatened to do any act against the person’s will or omit to do any lawful act, is guilty of a Class H felony.

Does the Assembly majority’s political strong-arming of Justice Protasiewicz satisfy the definition of criminal extortion? Sec. 943.30(4) provides:

(4) Whoever violates sub. (1) by attempting to influence the official action of any public officer is guilty of a Class H felony.

It is naive to think that Speaker Vos and his political allies will be prosecuted for Class H felonies, even though their actions towards Justice Protasiewicz and her colleagues in the Supreme Court majority arguably fall within the above statute. Whether criminal or not, however, threatening Justice Protasiewicz with loss of her duly-elected office for refusing to rule as the legislators direct is still garden-variety extortion.

Wisconsin citizens should ponder the arrogance and audacity of this Republican response to losing the landslide April Supreme Court election. By threatening Justice Protasiewicz to coerce her compliance with their directives on how to rule in cases before the Court, the Republican legislators are actively working to convert our Supreme Court into a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Legislature. They are blowing up our system of checks and balances — indeed our democracy itself — to accomplish this end, the million-plus Wisconsin voters who chose Justice Protasiewicz be damned. And the legislators are using unworthy, even sordid tactics to do so, tactics that would be unavailable to them but for the practical immunity they enjoy from rigged legislative maps.

By acting in this manner, Vos and his cohorts ironically prove the very point that Justice Protasiewicz emphasized in her winning election campaign — Wisconsin’s toxic gerrymandering destroys our democracy.

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Correction: An earlier version of this article cited the misstated a statute subsection number for criminal extortion. It has been updated to the correct citation 943.30(4)

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