A seismic shift in the Wisconsin Supreme Court has erupted into accusations of a “hostile takeover” and “unprecedented coup” by its conservative Chief Justice Annette Ziegler. In emails obtained by the Associated Press, Ziegler criticizes the court’s new liberal majority for what she sees as a blatant power grab and unlawful undermining of court operations.
On August 1, the court saw its balance tipped in favor of liberals for the first time in 15 years. The new liberal justices promptly fired the state court director, Randy Koschnick, which drew immediate controversy. “This is taking a wrecking ball to the due process of law in Wisconsin,” Koschnick said. Koschnick filed five complaints against the liberal justices and his replacement, Judge Audrey Skwierawski, who has also been caught in Ziegler’s crosshairs.
— Chris 🇺🇸 (@Chris_1791) August 29, 2023
In a dramatic series of emails, Ziegler raised “serious concerns about this being a public trust violation” given Skwierawski’s dual roles. “You never asked me for permission,” Ziegler wrote to Skwierawski. “You do not have my permission. Stop. These orders are in my name. You have no lawful authority to sign them.”
Further, the liberal justices formed a new committee tasked with performing many functions previously overseen by the chief justice, effectively weakening Ziegler’s role. She blasted the committee as “invented”. She said, “I will not condone such lawless destruction of the constitution, the judiciary, or the court.”
Ziegler’s words resonate with concerns over the swift and aggressive actions taken by the liberal majority, which flipped following Justice Janet Protasiewicz’s defeat of conservative Justice Dan Kelly this April. “You are making a mess of the judiciary, the court, and the institution for years to come,” Ziegler warned.
Justice Rebecca Dallet, one of the four liberals, responded to Ziegler’s emails by saying their actions were constitutional. Dallet argues that Ziegler insists on “a public debate about issues for political purposes,” a claim that hardly aligns with the existing controversy.
The judicial branch should never be a venue for political battles, yet what’s unfolding in Wisconsin suggests otherwise. While parties within the court will inherently hold differing views, the scale and speed of these changes under the new liberal majority suggest a concerning disregard for long-standing judicial norms.
As Chief Justice Ziegler clarifies, these actions could result in “long-term, irreparable damage to the judiciary.” The unprecedented power grab casts a shadow over Wisconsin’s Supreme Court and serves as a cautionary tale for other states. It remains to be seen whether the Wisconsin Judicial Commission will take up Koschnick’s complaints. Still, it’s evident that this “hostile takeover,” as Ziegler termed it, marks a new chapter of division in an already polarized climate.