I’ve posted a lot about electoral structures that are currently enabling a distinct minority of Americans to govern the rest of us. One of those systematic distortions–gerrymandering–has been enabled by a judiciary unwilling to say what we all can see: that the practice is contrary to “one person, one vote” and thus the Constitution.
What’s relatively new is the willingness of the GOP to publicly defend its attacks on democracy.
In Wisconsin, Republicans have benefitted from a combination of extreme gerrymandering and the political complicity of a state Supreme Court dominated by Rightwing judges. A liberal judge just won a seat on that body (by a surprisingly large margin in a state where close elections have been the norm), and Republicans threatened to impeach her–before she can participate in a single case.
In 2011, Republicans gerrymandered Wisconsin’s state legislature so badly that the party can win supermajorities despite losing the popular vote, as it did in 2018. Voters have fought back, and earlier this year they elected Janet Protasiewicz to the state supreme court, ushering in a new liberal majority which looked poised to finally overturn the gerrymander and bring democratic regime change to Madison.
But Wisconsin Republicans have no intention of seeing their undeserved power slip away. They’re proposing to impeach Protasiewicz on spurious charges before she has ruled on a single case, paralyzing the court and leaving the gerrymander intact.
When Trump argued that he was the real winner of the election because the votes of people living in Democratic-leaning urban areas were somehow fraudulent and should not count, he was repeating arguments that Wisconsin Republicans had already honed. The speaker of the state assembly, Robin Vos, has explained that the state’s gerrymander is fair because “if you took Madison and Milwaukee out of the state election formula, we would have a clear majority”. Because Madison and Milwaukee are the parts of the state with the largest concentration of non-white voters, Vos has revealed what the Wisconsin gerrymander is really about: race.
No surprise there. The urban/rural divide isn’t just about racism, but rural racial grievance explains a lot.
Per Talking Points Memo, the election of a liberal judge to the state’s high court infuriated the beneficiaries of Wisconsin’s undemocratic gerrymandering.
For months, Republicans have been plotting how best to overturn her election, as two redistricting lawsuits were immediately filed at the state’s high court. In recent weeks, they’ve been coalescing around impeaching her, settling on the rationale that she called the state’s maps “rigged.” Notably, state Republicans have not brought the same ire to Justices Rebecca Bradley and Brian Hagedorn continuing to preside over abortion cases after likening abortion to the Holocaust and calling Planned Parenthood a “wicked organization,” respectively.
The GOP is threatening to impeach both Protasiewicz, the judge, and Evers, the Democratic governor (since you can’t gerrymander statewide elections, voters were able to elect a liberal justice and a Democratic Governor). “The threat of actual democracy has convulsed the state government, while state Democrats express their outrage from their manufactured permanent minority.”
The use of skewed election systems to suppress the voices of minority voters is not new to the U.S. Wisconsin is only a blatant example.
Like their predecessors in other states, Wisconsin Republicans have been remarkably frank about their intention of ensuring that minorities stay in their place. When Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers powered to victory in 2018 with massive wins in Madison and Milwaukee, the Republican legislature used a lame-duck session to strip him of much of his power. Not content with that, Evers’ Republican opponent in 2022, Tim Michels, promised that if he was elected then Republicans in Wisconsin “will never lose another election”.
Give him credit for transparency…
Republicans aren’t even pretending any more. It’s not just Wisconsin–but what happens in Wisconsin will be a test case, telling us whether these increasingly brazen attempts to secure minority rule will succeed.
The author of the Guardian essay–a British historian of the United States–notes that Wisconsin Republicans were among the most fervent backers of Trump’s undemocratic coup attempt, “but they needed no lessons from him in how to suppress the will of the people.”
The Republican party’s belief in its own god-given right to rule – and that of its white, rural electorate – found its most dangerous expression in Trump’s attempt to overthrow the 2020 election, but it long predated him. It will outlive him unless it is chastened by accountability and defeat at every turn. All eyes are now on Wisconsin and Janet Protasiewicz to see if it will be.
If the Wisconsin GOP’s shameless abandonment of even a pretense of playing by the rules succeeds, we’re in for a world of hurt.