U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Gov. Evers’ State Legislative Maps

The United States Supreme Court ordered the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reconsider its decision adopting state legislative maps proposed by Gov. Tony Evers. This is the latest decision in an ongoing series of lawsuits regarding redistricting in Wisconsin. The U.S. Supreme Court issued its order on March 23. The unsigned opinion was adopted on a 7-2 vote, with liberal Justices Kagan and Sotomayor dissenting. The order directs the Wisconsin Supreme Court to “choose from among the other submissions” or else to “take additional evidence if it prefers to reconsider the governor’s maps.” The order warns that “any new analysis… must comply with our equal protection jurisprudence.”

In a separate, one-sentence, unsigned order issued the same day, the nation’s high court denied a request from Wisconsin’s Republican members of Congress to stay implementation of Gov. Evers’ congressional maps, meaning that those maps are likely to remain in place for the next ten years.

The issue of redistricting went before the Wisconsin Supreme Court after the Republican-led Legislature and Democratic Gov. Evers reached an impasse and could not agree on new legislative or congressional maps. The state’s high court solicited proposals from the parties and evaluated those maps for compliance with federal and state laws and for adherence to a principle of “least change” from the previous maps. In a March 3 decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court adopted the redistricting plan proposed by Gov. Evers for both state legislative and congressional districts. The court’s order directed the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) to begin using the new maps for the 2022 primary and general elections.

Republican legislative leaders immediately appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court and asked both courts to order WEC to use the old state legislative maps until the case is resolved. WEC officials have said they need a decision soon on which maps will be used in 2022, so that candidates can begin circulating nomination papers on April 15 and the commission can then print ballots with the correct districts and candidates in time for the statewide primary election on August 9.

The core legal issue raised by legislative Republicans and considered by the U.S. Supreme Court is whether Gov. Evers’ legislative maps comply with the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) and related equal protection jurisprudence. Gov. Evers’ proposal includes seven Assembly districts where Black residents are a very narrow majority of the voting-age population; under the old maps, there were six districts where Black voters were a majority of the voting age population, with higher margins. The U.S. Supreme Court found that the Wisconsin court failed to consider whether a “race-neutral alternative that did not add a seventh majority-black district would deny black voters equal political opportunity.”

In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, Gov. Evers issued a press release asserting that his legislative map complies with all applicable state and federal laws and that he will ask the Wisconsin Supreme Court to stick with his proposal. Republican legislative leaders argue that the Wisconsin Supreme Court should select their map because it satisfies the VRA while also being racially neutral. The state’s high court has not yet declared how it will handle this case or which maps Wisconsin will use in partisan elections later this year.

For additional coverage of redistricting in Wisconsin, see the following articles: