"Hostile takeover": Wisconsin conservative justice accuses elected liberal majority of a "coup"

Supreme Court Chief Justice Annette Ziegler is not happy the new liberal majority is taking away her power

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Staff Writer

Published August 29, 2023 3:06PM (EDT)

Janet Protasiewicz giving remarks at her swearing in ceremony at the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda in Madison, Wis. on August 1, 2023. (Sara Stathas for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Janet Protasiewicz giving remarks at her swearing in ceremony at the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda in Madison, Wis. on August 1, 2023. (Sara Stathas for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The conservative chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Monday sent a seething email to the state's new liberal majority, accusing them of a political revolt and an "illegal experiment" when they voted to shrink her powers and oust the director of state courts. 

"You are making a mess of the judiciary, the court and the institution for years to come," Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler wrote to her fellow justices and interim state court director Audrey Skwierawski, in emails obtained by the Associated Press. "This must stop. ... I have no confidence in the recent hostile takeover and the chaotic effect it has had on the court, staff, and the overall stable functioning of the courts. Again, I will not condone such lawless destruction of the constitution, the judiciary, or the court. This is nothing short of an unprecedented coup. For 40 years, the role of the Chief Justice has been understood and respected. Your short term goals will cause long term, irreparable damage to the judiciary. What a historical disgrace."

Ziegler also instructed Skwierawski to stop signing orders in her name, writing, "It has come to my attention that you have been signing my reserve judge orders without my knowledge or approval. You never asked me for permission. You do not have my permission. Stop. These orders are in my name. You have no lawful authority to sign them. If you have signed anything else under my name, please advise immediately."

Skwierawski responded to Ziegler saying she "vehemently" disagreed, adding, "I had the legal authority and responsibility as well as the moral obligation to sign the orders for reserve judge."

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At the start of the month, Justice Janet Protasiewicz began her 10-year term, ushering in a new liberal majority for the first time in 15 years. The AP reported that in their first week alone, liberal justices voted to fire the previous state court director, hire Skwierawski, and forge a committee to handle much of the work that Ziegler previously had, effectively weakening her.

In response to Ziegler's email, liberal Justice Rebecca Dallet responded by saying she was "disappointed" that Ziegler elected to communicate with "deeply inappropriate, and at times partisan, tone and tenor." 

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"We are simply creating process so that a majority of the court can effectively work in the face of an intransigent and uncollegial chief who apparently insists on a public debate about issues for political purposes, rather than allow a court majority to function as it always has," said Dallet. "Let me be crystal clear," Dallet added. "The attempt to obstruct the proper business of the court and the furtherance of justice comes from you."

Politico also reported that the Wisconsin GOP is zeroing in on Meagan Wolfe, the administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, in a move to have her removed ahead of the state's upcoming presidential primary. "I think that it's largely out of a desire to find an explanation for Donald Trump's loss other than fewer people voted for him than Joe Biden," Ann S. Jacobs, one of the Democratic commissioners on the WEC, said of the strategies being put in place to fire Wolfe. "She is the chief elections officer, she offers a face to the conspiracy theories."

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Gabriella Ferrigine is a staff writer at Salon. Originally from the Jersey Shore, she moved to New York City in 2016 to attend Columbia University, where she received her B.A. in English and M.A. in American Studies. Formerly a staff writer at NowThis News, she has an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from NYU and was previously a news fellow at Salon.

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Annette Ziegler Audrey Skwierawski Brief Donald Trump Janet Protasiewicz Joe Biden Meagan Wolfe Politics