By Lorenzo Cruz
Most political operatives prognosticated that the U.S. Supreme Court would not reverse the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision on the redistricting court case. In early March, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on a 4–3 decision to adopt Governor Tony Evers’ legislative and congressional maps rather than use the GOP-controlled state Legislature’s version of the maps.
The majority in the split state Supreme Court decision viewed the Governor’s configured maps as more closely aligned to the ‘least change’ approach, which was used to develop the existing legislative and congressional boundaries drawn a decade ago. The state Supreme Court decision was considered a victory for Democrats and a setback for the GOP.
The Governor’s maps had 55 GOP seats and 44 Dem seats in the State Assembly and 20 GOP seats and 13 Dem seats in the State Senate. By contrast, the GOP maps had 64 Assembly GOP seats and 35 Dem seats and 22 Senate GOP seats and 12 Dem seats. Even under the Governor’s new maps, Democrats still had an arduous path to regaining majorities in both houses of the state Legislature.
In what many capitol observers considered a surprising move, the nation’s highest court in a 7–2 majority overturned the ruling and found that the state court erred in its application of the Voters Rights Act (VRA), which led to the creation of a seventh majority Black Assembly district. Currently, there are six majority Black districts on the map. The GOP-designed maps contained five majority Black districts. The U.S. Supreme Court also rejected the GOP’s request to overturn the Governor’s congressional maps.
In the appeal, GOP lawmakers contended that Evers’ plan violated the U.S. Constitution Equal Protection Clause because it improperly applied the federal VRA when drawing seven majority Black Assembly districts in the Milwaukee area. The U.S. Supreme Court conservative block sided with the GOP position and sent the issue back to the state court. The Supreme Court’s reversal in the case meant more rounds of court activity around what the maps should look like.
The state Supreme Court’s decision could have brought resolution or more litigation at the federal court. In early April, Wisconsin was under a cloud of uncertainty and momentarily waiting in limbo on the maps. However, the judicial winds changed swiftly again in mid-April with the state Supreme Court in a 4–3 decision approving the GOP’s version of the legislative maps. With the elections looming in the fall and nomination papers set to circulate on April 15, the state Supreme Court acted decisively on the case. The Wisconsin Supreme Court found the Wisconsin Legislature’s maps complied with the Equal Protection Clause, along with all other applicable federal and state legal requirements. Furthermore, the state Supreme Court concluded the Legislature’s maps were race neutral and followed the ‘least change’ approach, which the state’s highest court adopted a decade ago.
WBA expected interested parties on both sides to fight vigorously and exhaust all avenues in the judicial process to secure legal, legislative, and congressional maps that support their desired political outcomes. Barring any more legal challenges, the state Supreme Court’s action brings closure to the redistricting court case in 2022.
The political stakes are extremely high with control of the U.S. Congress and state Legislature as well as Wisconsin’s Gubernatorial seat in play. The Badger State could again be a battleground
and a bellwether for the rest of the country for hotly contested races. Stay tuned for more political developments as the drama continues to unfold in the primary and general elections.