Four Ways Justice David Prosser Can Be Removed From Office

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser

Earlier today, news broke that Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser allegedly grabbed fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley around the neck during argument in her chambers last week. If these allegations prove true, Prosser is guilty of a very serious crime. Under Wisconsin law, “[w]hoever intentionally causes bodily harm or threatens to cause bodily harm to the person or family member of any judge…is guilty of a Class H felony,” except with certain exceptions that don’t apply here.

Sadly, this is not the first time Prosser stands accused of a sexist attack on one of his fellow justices — although it appears to be the first allegation where he actually laid hands on one of his colleagues. Last year, during an argument with Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, Prosser called her a “bitch” and threatened to “destroy” her.

Like all accused criminals, Prosser enjoys a presumption of innocence and he should not be condemned until the evidence clearly shows that he is guilty. Should the allegations prove true, however, there are at least four paths to remove Justice Prosser from office:

  1. Resignation: The most obvious solution is that Prosser should immediately step down from his position on the state supreme court. It should be self evident that someone prone to violent outbursts has no business as a judge — much less as a supreme court justice — and if Prosser truely possess the independent judgment he claimed to have in his recent reelection campaign this fact should be clear to him as well
  2. Impeachment: The Wisconsin Constitution permits judges to be removed through an impeachment trial and conviction. As under the U.S. Constitution, this process requires a majority vote in the state assembly to begin impeachment proceedings and a two-thirds vote in the senate to convict. Impeachment could potentially be the quickest way to prevent Prosser from ruling on any more cases until this matter is resolved, as the state constitution provides that “[n]o judicial officer shall exercise his office, after he shall have been impeached, until his acquittal.”
  3. Removal by Address: A supermajority of both houses of the state legislature can also remove Prosser through a process known as “removal by address.” Under this process, “Any justice or judge may be removed from office by address of both houses of the legislature, if two−thirds of all the members elected to each house concur therein.”
  4. Recall: As a last resort, Prosser may be removed by a recall election using the same process that was recently invoked to attempt to recall several state senators. Under Wisconsin law, however, elected officials enjoy a one year grace period during the beginning of their term in office where they are immune from recall. Because Prosser was just recently reelected, this means he could continue to serve as a justice for quite a while before a recall election could take place.

Wisconsin is obviously caught in some deep ideological battles, including an impending recall election that will determine control of the state senate. If there is one issue that should transcend party lines, however, it is the basic fact that no one is allowed to lay hands on a sitting judge. Should the allegations against Prosser prove true, it is tough to imagine a truer sign that our political system has broken down than if the calls to remove him from office are not unanimous.