Wisconsin conservatives reward a Trump coup plotter
Also: The trials and tribulations of Brian Kilmeade.
By Lisa Needham
If you want to see how few consequences attorneys who participated in Trump coup attempt are suffering, just look to Wisconsin. There, the conservative majority of the state Supreme Court just voted to reappoint Jim Troupis to its Judicial Conduct Advisory Committee.
Troupis is a former Dane County judge and onetime Trump campaign attorney who was one of the first lawyers to map out the fake elector scheme. Just after the 2020 presidential election, Troupis asked attorney and fellow Trump supporter Kenneth Chesebro to research whether Wisconsin could put forth a slate of electors that would vote for Trump, even though he lost the state to Biden.
The memo in which Chesebro outlined the plan is dressed up in a lot of legalese and chock full of footnotes. But at root, it represents something shocking: one well-regarded lawyer asking another to outline how, some 13 days after the state was called for Biden, to simply ignore those results and push Trump forward.
Troupis was a leading participant in the fake electors scheme
Eventually, the fake electors idea took hold in seven states, with 84 people agreeing to sign on as electors for Trump in states that Biden had won. And Troupis was there at the start.
The fake elector scheme fell apart quickly. Fake electors convened in seven states targeted by Trump and his allies — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — to try to substitute themselves for the duly-authorized Biden electors. That didn’t work, as all seven nonetheless certified Biden’s victory by the deadline of December 14, 2020. Then, the fake electors shifted focus to January 6, 2021, hoping that Mike Pence would somehow pick the fake electors in those seven states and throw the election to Trump. However, one of the lead architects of the plot, attorney John Eastman, had already admitted back on December 19, 2020, that the fake elector plan was “dead on arrival.” The architects of this plan knew it was wrong, but they didn’t care.
Before the Trump era, it would have been disturbing and fantastical to imagine that lawyers who participated in trying to overturn a presidential election wouldn’t suffer consequences, but here we are. Even Sidney Powell, the most flamboyantly insurrectionist of the Trump attorneys, just escaped discipline in Texas. To be fair, Rudy Guiliani was suspended from practice in both New York and Washington DC, and California might disbar Eastman, but those seem to be the exceptions.
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And Troupis? Thanks to the Wisconsin Supreme Court currently being dominated by hard-right conservatives, Troupis isn’t just escaping discipline — he’s thriving. The highest court in the state just reappointed Troupis to the Judicial Conduct Advisory Committee. That committee exists to “render formal advisory opinions and give informal advice to judges and judicial officers,” who are governed by Wisconsin’s Code of Judicial Conduct. So, judges in the state ask the committee for opinions about conduct they are considering to ensure it doesn’t run afoul of the Code.
What standards does the Code of Judicial Conduct require the state’s judges to adhere to? They have to “promote public confidence” in the judiciary's integrity and impartiality. They aren’t allowed to let political relationships influence their judgment. They may not be “swayed by partisan interests.” Judges can’t “appeal to partisanship” or be a member of any political party, as the Wisconsin judiciary is (only theoretically) nonpartisan.
One would think that a former judge who was a leading participant in a wholly partisan effort to destroy the democratic process would not be a good choice to give current judges advice on being nonpartisan. Nor would that person likely be a good choice to promote public confidence in the state’s judicial branch. But the conservatives on the Wisconsin Supreme Court do not care one bit.
Granted, Troupis is less overtly terrible than Michael Gableman, who used to sit on that court. Gableman was hired by the state GOP to do a post-election probe, hoping to turn up evidence of election fraud. Instead, he wasted $1 million of taxpayer money, threatened to jail elections officials in liberal-leaning counties, made a mockery of judicial procedure, and surprise, surprise, turned up no fraud. But that sort of clownery is par for the course in today’s GOP.
Wisconsin voters have a big opportunity to make the state Supreme Court less terrible
Jim Troupis, Michael Gableman, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s current conservatives — Chief Justice Annette Kingsland Ziegler and Justices Patience Roggensack, Rebecca Grassl Bradley, and Brian Hagedorn — are the reason that the upcoming judicial election in Wisconsin is so important. Roggensack is not running for reelection, so her seat is a contest between hyper-conservative Dan Kelly and Janet Protasiewicz in the general election on April 4. It’s a battle for control of the court, as whoever wins will create a 4-3 majority, liberal or conservative.
Kelly used to be on the court, having lost his seat to one of the liberal jurists, Jill Karofsky, back in 2020. And what has Dan Kelly been up to since then? Oh, just getting paid six figures by the Wisconsin GOP to work on “election issues,” which appears to have included advising on the fake electors scheme.
Protasiewicz is a Milwaukee County Circuit Judge, and if you’d like an on-the-nose example of how they radically differ, note this: Protasiewicz, who received $2.5 million from the Wisconsin Democratic Party, has pledged that if she wins, she won’t hear cases brought by the party because people might perceive that as unfair, given the sum. This is significant because if Protasiewicz recuses on critical cases involving the party, they could split 3-3. When that happens at the highest court, the lower court decision stands. So, if the WisDems lost below, they could lose again, and that’s because Protasiewicz cares about fairness. Kelly, on the other hand, won’t make any such promise, instead saying he’d decide on a case-by-case basis whether to recuse even though the Wisconsin GOP ran his 2020 campaign.
It’s the same thing when you look at the issue of abortion, given that the court will definitely hear a case related to the state’s 1849 law, which banned nearly all abortions. That law was never formally repealed, which means after the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, the law went back into effect and abortion is now unavailable in the state. However, the state’s Democratic Attorney General sued to challenge the ban, saying the state functionally repealed that law when it passed newer laws regulating abortion. That case is still in the lower courts in Wisconsin but will inevitably reach the highest court.
Protasiewicz, though she has been vocally pro-choice, has not said how she would rule on any abortion cases. But Kelly has already made his own stance on the matter exceedingly clear. When he applied to former Gov. Scott Walker’s office for his initial appointment to the Supreme Court in 2016, he received a letter of recommendation from the executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life, a leading anti-abortion group in the state. The executive director wrote that Kelly had provided “great counsel to Wisconsin Right to Life in legal matters.” Though his work for them was so important it warranted a letter of recommendation back in 2016, these days Kelly is trying to brush it off, saying, “I don’t even recall” what he did for the group.
Voters aren’t always faced with this stark a choice, but a continued conservative majority on the state Supreme Court, combined with the fact that the state is gerrymandered to ensure Republican victories in the state legislature, presents a real danger to the state. And it’s not just abortion where the combination of a conservative legislature and a conservative judiciary is concerning. The state Supreme Court has already ruled, for example, that the GOP-controlled state legislature can just refuse to confirm any of the Democratic governor’s nominees, a ruling that deeply undercuts the democratic process. During the time of the court’s conservative majority, it has also radically reduced transparency, including no longer holding public meetings on things like ethics matters.
A victory for Kelly is implicitly a victory for those attorneys, like the court’s current conservatives, who believe that partisan success is more important than upholding the democratic process. That shouldn’t be rewarded.
Brian Kilmeade covers his bases
By Aaron Rupar
Going back more than two years now, Brian Kilmeade has worked harder than anyone at Fox News to make President Ron DeSantis a thing. On Monday, this included conducting a literal softball with the Florida governor as part of an apparent effort to demonstrate youth and athleticism.
What a difference a day makes.