Wisconsin continues to be ground zero for some of the most shameless conservative partisan maneuvering going on in the country right now.
Justice Janet Protasiewicz’s eleven-point victory in this year’s state Supreme Court election created a liberal majority on the bench, toppling the court’s 15-year conservative majority that nearly overturned Biden’s narrow 2020 victory in the state. It was the most expensive state supreme court race in U.S. history, and Justice Protasiewicz will now serve a ten-year term on the state’s highest bench.
As abortion access is at the center of debate in elections across the country and at every level of government, Protasiewicz engaged on the issue often throughout her campaign. After the fall of Roe v. Wade, an 1849 state law was still on the books and was widely interpreted as outlawing abortion in all cases except to save the mother’s life. The archaic state law acted as a de facto total abortion ban until a Dane County judge recently signaled otherwise, and abortion care resumed within the state’s previous 20-week standard. Wisconsin ranked 27th in the country on IWPR’s 2022 Reproductive Rights Index for its lack of reproductive care access and the issue clearly resonated with Wisconsin voters. Along the campaign trail, Protasiewicz also expressed concerns that the “rigged” redistricting maps drawn by Republicans don’t actually represent the voters in Wisconsin.
The GOP majority in the Legislature wasted no time in weaponizing these campaign stances against her. They swiftly called on Justice Protasiewicz to recuse herself in a set of two Democrat-led lawsuits involving the redistricting maps, arguing that she had prejudged the cases during her campaign. She declined to do so, and the newly liberal court has agreed to hear at least one of those cases. Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos had assembled a panel of former conservative Justices to investigate criteria for Protasiewicz’s impeachment before the court could rule on the maps, though that strategy has since been tabled after at least two of them advised against the unprecedented measure. This makes clear that impeachment was never more than an unfounded, last-ditch effort by Republican leadership to uphold GOP-favoring electoral maps.
Abortion bans in several other states have also faced state court challenges, but Wisconsin’s partisan divide on the issue is unique in its attack on an individual elected Justice. In addition, preserving conservative power through gerrymandered maps is inextricably linked to the GOP’s agenda to reverse the latest legal developments in abortion access and restrict gender-affirming care. The GOP’s any-means-necessary approach to upholding reproductive restrictions underscores the importance of convening an energized community in spaces like the Milwaukee Women’s Convention. Responding to this political moment and strategizing for a feminist future is paramount to expanding reproductive justice and advancing gender equity.
IWPR’s recent presentation at the Women’s Conference in Milwaukee, Facts Still Matter: Building Feminist Power Through Research, explored the role of research in feminist movement building, activism, and advocacy, including how leveraging better research builds our movement’s power. Facts and evidence matter, and our policies – and our movements – are strongest when they’re rooted in the realities of people’s lives. IWPR is motivated to center evidence-based policy research in powerful conversations about what a feminist future can and should look like in Wisconsin and beyond.