The Wisconsin Supreme Court has adopted a redistricting plan proposed by Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D), a notable legal and political victory for Democrats. The court filed its decision on March 3. Justice Brian Hagedorn, a judicial conservative, wrote the opinion for a 4-3 majority including himself and the court’s three liberal justices.
The majority opinion argues that among the maps submitted by the parties to the lawsuit, both the congressional and state legislative maps submitted by Gov. Evers most closely adhere to the criteria the court adopted in an earlier ruling. The court’s order directs the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) to begin using the new maps for the August 2022 primary elections onward.
State legislative and congressional maps drafted by Republican legislative leaders passed the Wisconsin Legislature along party lines in early November 2021. Gov. Evers vetoed those maps in mid-November. Gov. Evers also appointed his own advisory body to draft maps, the “People’s Maps Commission.” Those maps were also put to a vote by the Legislature and were rejected by all Republican legislators and some Democrats.
Because Gov. Evers and the Legislature failed to agree on new maps, the issue went before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In its first major ruling in the case, the court adopted a “least change” approach to choosing new maps. Attorneys representing legislative leaders had asked the court to adopt such an approach and to reject “partisan balance” or “political unfairness” as criteria for new maps.
In the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s final ruling, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley filed a concurring opinion, joined by fellow liberal Justices Dallet and Karofsky. The concurrence argues that the court should not have adopted a “least change” approach to redistricting in the first place. Each justice in the minority filed a dissenting opinion and joined in each other’s opinions. The dissenting opinions criticize the decision for relying on a metric of “core retention” to assess “least change,” violating the U.S. and Wisconsin Constitutions, and creating an illegal racial gerrymander.
Shortly following the court’s decision, Gov. Evers issued a press release saying the ruling “isn’t a victory for me or any political party, but for the people of our state who for too long have demanded better, fairer maps and for too long went ignored.” In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, (R-Oostburg) argued that the governor’s maps are “racially gerrymandered” and were drafted “behind closed doors with no public input.”
State legislative districts
Based on the average party performance in recent elections, Gov. Evers’ Assembly map includes 55 districts that typically vote Republican and 44 voting Democratic. The new Senate map includes 20 typically Republican seats and 13 Democratic districts.
By comparison, former President Donald Trump won 62 Assembly districts and 22 Senate districts in 2020 under the maps in place at the time. The maps submitted to the court by legislative Republicans included 64 Assembly seats and 22 Senate seats that Trump would have won in 2020.
The maps adopted by the Wisconsin Supreme Court include three “pairs” of state legislators, where one legislator’s home is moved into another’s district. Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), who currently represents the 5th Senate District, was moved into the 8th district, currently represented by Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills).
Rep. Cody Horlacher (R-Mukwonago) of the 33rd Assembly District was moved into the 83rd district, currently represented by Rep. Chuck Wichgers (R-Muskego). Rep. Barb Dittrich (R-Oconomowoc), representing the 38th district, was moved into the 24th district currently represented by Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown).
Following the 2020 Census, Wisconsin retained its eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Based on the average party performance in recent elections, Gov. Evers’ maps include five typically Republican districts and three typically Democratic seats. However, the First and Third Congressional Districts have only a slight Republican lean under the governor’s plan. Under the previous maps, former President Donald Trump won six of the state’s eight congressional districts in 2020. President Trump also would have won six districts in 2020 under the maps submitted by legislative Republicans.
Federal appeals and lawsuits
States must update their political maps every 10 years following the completion of the Census. Several lawsuits were filed in anticipation of the governor and Legislature failing to agree on a redistricting plan. A panel of three judges overseeing a federal lawsuit paused proceedings while state affairs progressed; now, the panel will consider whether to dismiss the case.
Republican legislative leaders have appealed the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The legislators have asked both high courts to stay the redistricting ruling and allow Wisconsin to use its old state legislative maps until federal proceedings are complete. The appeal argues that Gov. Evers’ maps include an illegal racial gerrymander, maximizing the number of Black majority districts without meeting the test the U.S. Supreme Court has laid out to determine when race can be considered in drawing lines.
The five Republican members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation have filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision violated the Constitution’s Due Process Clause. The filing argues that the Wisconsin high court deceived parties by initially adopting a “least change” approach and then relying on “core retention” to choose maps. The lawsuit asks for an order directing the Wisconsin Supreme Court to allow the parties to submit new maps taking the “core retention” standard into consideration. Alternatively, the lawsuit asks the court to adopt the congressional maps passed by the Legislature.
State Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) has also said she will file suit against the new maps, arguing that they illegally dilute the percentage of Black voters in majority-Black districts such that those voters will not be able to elect candidates of their choice. The seven Black-majority Assembly districts in Gov. Evers’ maps have Black voting age populations ranging from 50.1 percent to 51.4 percent.
For additional coverage of redistricting in Wisconsin, see the articles below: