Protasiewicz says she’d recuse herself from cases involving Democratic Party

By: - March 1, 2023 11:27 am

Judge Janet Protasiewicz addresses the crowd after her primary victory. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)

Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Janet Protasiewicz said Wednesday that if elected she’d recuse herself from any cases in which the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is involved because it has provided so much money to her campaign. 

Protasiewicz told reporters she’d step aside from such cases after she addressed the Wisconsin Counties Association’s annual legislative conference in Madison Wednesday morning, saying that she’s the only candidate in the Supreme Court race who has called for a recusal rule for justices. 

The Milwaukee County judge said that because the party had given $2.5 million to support her campaign, even the appearance of unfairness dictates she shouldn’t hear those cases. 

“I would likely recuse myself from any case involving the Democratic Party of the state of Wisconsin,” she said. “I have been the only person running for this seat who’s been a proponent of a recusal rule. I think that $2.5 million is obviously a significant amount of money, whether or not I could continue to be fair or impartial on a case is one matter but on the other hand, the public deserves to have, really, also the appearance of fairness, the appearance of impartiality. And I don’t know that the public could really say, ‘Hmm, she’s fair,’ when she’s received $2.5 million from a particular entity.” 

Protasiewicz’ opponent, conservative former Justice Dan Kelly, has drawn fire in the past for his decisions over recusals. When he was running for reelection in 2020, the Supreme Court heard a case that would decide if thousands of voter registration files should be removed from the statewide database. Kelly said he’d recuse himself because the case would involve which voters remained registered in his election. But after he lost, he reversed his decision and weighed in on the case. 

In 2017, a group of more than 50 retired judges had proposed a rules change that would require justices to step aside if an organization that supported their election was involved in a case. Kelly and four other conservative justices decided against instituting the stricter recusal rules.

“The question is whether we should tell judges and the state that we don’t trust them to do that,” Kelly said of justices’ ability to decide on their own if they should step aside. “I think that’s caustic and inappropriate and an unnecessary thing for us to do.”

Speaking at the same event later on Wednesday, Kelly told reporters that each recusal decision is an individual one.

“I think the decision to recuse is an individual one,” he said. “One of the important things we can be looking at as we look forward to this election is electing someone whose character we trust. Recusal is a matter of character so your responsibility of course is to ensure that any case that you sit on, that you’re able to do the job of a justice.”

Protasiewicz, on Wednesday, said that although she wouldn’t decide on cases involving the Democratic party, she wouldn’t step aside on cases involving issues on which she’s been outspoken about her “personal values.” Throughout the campaign she’s frequently said she supports women’s reproductive choices and that the state’s legislative maps are “rigged.” She’s also received a pledge of financial support from Planned Parenthood. 

Both issues are likely to come before the court if she’s elected. 

“I’ve been very, very clear and very, very careful that I have talked to people about what my personal values are,” she said. “Every single time I talk about what my personal values are I make sure everyone understands that I will only be making decisions based on what the law is and based on what the constitution is. Every single decision will be rooted in the law.”


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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.