In an extraordinary missive, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler accused the court’s liberal members of meeting in a “secret, illegitimate meeting” to gut her authority today, calling them “four rogue members of the court.”
“The rogue justices’ attempt to go outside of this recognized procedure is an imposition of will and a raw exercise of overreaching power. Any such attempted action is illegitimate and unenforceable,” Ziegler wrote.
In response, liberal justice Rebecca Dallet whipped out two press releases, accusing Ziegler of lacking collegiality.
Conservative Rebecca Bradley then weighed in on Twitter, writing, “Ann Bradley & her cabal of extreme leftists-Rebecca Dallet, Jill Karofsky & Janet Protasiewicz-met in secret, without their colleagues, to usurp the power the people gave the Chief Justice. They have no respect for the people they are supposed to serve or for the constitution.”
She added, “Behind closed doors, four rogue justices violated court traditions and procedures to rewrite the rules justices followed for decades. When Rebecca Dallet called the rule of law ‘garbage’ she meant it. Nothing will stand in the way of their blatant power grab designed to advance their political agenda. They sully the institution of the judiciary.”
Ziegler also released a pages-long document that contains the changes the liberal justices made to Supreme Court rules today; it shows that they went through the rules and removed the chief justice from many passages where she had authority, replacing the position instead with a new “Supreme Court administrative committee” they created. Two of that committee’s three members will be chosen by the liberal majority, meaning the left-wing justices can stack the committee to their favor.
In one example, the liberal justices gutted the chief justice’s authority involving juvenile petitions to the waive parental consent prior to getting an abortion.
The stunning power grab comes as the court’s liberal majority barrelled out of the gates with an extremely dysfunctional start during its first week, accused of violating the law and state Constitution by secretly deliberating to fire State Courts Director Randy Koschnick, a conservative, and then by appointing Milwaukee County Judge Audrey Skwierawski to Koschnick’s position on an interim basis even though state law says judges can’t hold non-judicial posts during their terms. The conservative justices accused the liberals of abuse of power, reckless conduct, and engaging in a political purge, and the chair of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee said they violated the law, Constitution, and their oaths.
However, today, they doubled down.
On August 4, 2023, according to Ziegler, the liberals changed a state Supreme Court rule that says “the director of state courts shall be the chief nonjudicial officer of the court system in the state. The director shall be hired by and serve at the pleasure of the supreme court, under the direction of the chief justice.” They crossed out the word chief justice and replaced it with “supreme court administrative committee.”
You can see all of their changes at the end of Ziegler’s press release here: Statement-Chief Justice Ziegler 8-4-23 (for immediate release)-with proposal
They also stripped the chief justice of her power to make certain appointments, such as to the Planning and policy advisory committee, giving that power to the Supreme Court administrative committee that will be presumably be stacked with liberals. “There shall be a supreme court administrative committee comprised of the chief justice and two justices selected by a majority of the supreme court,” the changes say; liberals hold the majority on the court.
They also gutted the chief justice’s authority over scheduling of original actions to the court, meaning lawsuits where litigants are seeking the Supreme Court to take up the action without it going through lower courts first. The liberal justices also included a provision that members of the court can have private discussions about pending rule petitions among themselves or with others.
The new changes also gave this newly created “supreme court administrative committee” the authority to set the schedule for oral arguments, decision conferences, rules hearings, and administrative conferences, instead of the chief justice. The liberals were accused of violating the rule giving the chief justice this authority when they secretly deliberated to fire Koschnick, according to previous press releases from Ziegler and the state Senate’s Judiciary Committee chair.
On Friday, August 4, 2023, as the day drew to a close, Ziegler, a conservative, sent out the press release that read: “Today, four rogue members of the court met in a secret, unscheduled, illegitimate closed meeting in an attempt to gut the Chief Justice’s constitutional authority as administrator of the court.”
The four liberal justices are Janet Protasiewicz, Rebecca Dallet, Ann Walsh Bradley, and Jill Karofsky.
“Court business concerning Internal Operating Procedures and Supreme Court Rules in conducted when seven members of the court convene with an agenda prepared by the Chief Justice and at a time set by the Chief Justice during the court’s business year, which is September-June,” Ziegler wrote.
Shortly thereafter, Dallet released her own press release that appeared to confirm that the majority of the justices – i.e. the four liberals – had taken a vote Friday.
“The majority of justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court voted today to advance a number of transparency and accountability measures. First, we have made a series of rules and operating procedures changes to make court decision-making more inclusive, timely and responsive,” she said.
“Second, we are committed to making all orders more readily accessible on our website. Third, we have voted to reopen our administrative conferences. And fourth, we will be announcing the creation of a bipartisan task force to study the issue of recusal and to present us with recommendations.”
She noted, “this initial series of actions is intended to be a first step in making our court more accessible and more accountable to the people of Wisconsin.”
The issue of recusal is heating up because of the blatantly political positions that Protasiewicz took during her unprecedentedly partisan campaign for state Supreme Court last spring. Judicial ethics rules hold that judges are not supposed to publicly prejudge cases that might appear before them on the court. However, Protasiewicz called legislative maps “rigged,” even though there is now a case involving them before the court. She also declared that Act 10 is unconstitutional and repeatedly stated that she supports abortion. The state Supreme Court is supposed to be non-partisan.
The liberal justices have refused to give a reason for Koschnick’s firing, which has drawn bipartisan condemnation.
Dallet then issued a SECOND press release on Friday. This one verbally attacked the chief justice. In it, she wrote that she wanted “to express my disappointment that the Chief Justice, rather than collegially participate in a scheduled meeting of the court today, is litigating issues normally discussed by Justices either in conference or through email, through media releases.”
“On May 19, 2023, the chief justice was asked to schedule a conference in August to discuss administrative changes. She declined to do so. On June 23, 2023, that request was reiterated again. The request was again refused,” Dallet wrote.
“This week, we shared with all of our colleagues on the Court a set of proposed changes to our internal operating procedures and Supreme Court rules. In a continued effort to compromise and to respect and accommodate everyone’s calendar, the Chief Justice was asked if there was any date in August when the court could meet. We tried to reach common ground with the Chief Justice. She flatly refused to schedule a court conference for any date in August. There appears to be no interest in reaching compromise,” claimed Dallet.
“Thus, a majority of the court met today, after having given proper notice of the meeting to our colleagues, and with an opportunity for justices to appear in person, by zoom or to vote by email. Some of our colleagues chose not to participate, and instead the Chief Justice has issued a second press release,” she wrote.
“Contrary to the Chief’s assertion, the court has not yet approved a calendar for this term. Any court member can move to hold a meeting, and a majority agreed that a meeting would be held today,” she wrote. “We continue to be willing to work with our colleagues, and I have asked the Chief Justice to put these adopted changes on the agenda for the meeting she has agreed to hold on September 7.”
Dallet continued: “I want to reiterate that it is deeply inappropriate for the Chief Justice to continue to refuse to engage with her colleagues, but instead to publicly litigate these issues. It is not my intention, nor the intention of a majority of my colleagues, to continue to litigate internal issues, through the media.”