Wisconsin Supreme Court Reverses Earlier Redistricting Decision, Selects Republican Legislative Maps

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has adopted state legislative maps proposed by Republican legislative leaders, a reversal of the court’s earlier decision adopting maps proposed by Gov. Tony Evers (D). On April 15, the state’s high court issued what is likely to be its final ruling related to the current cycle of redistricting in Wisconsin. The case was on remand from the United States Supreme Court, which ordered its Wisconsin counterpart to reconsider an earlier ruling.

Chief Justice Annette Ziegler delivered the majority opinion, joined by the court’s three other judicial conservatives. Justice Jill Karofsky filed a dissenting opinion on behalf of the court’s three judicial liberals. In addition to joining the majority opinion, Justices Rebecca Bradley and Brian Hagedorn also filed concurrences. Justice Hagedorn has acted as a “swing vote” on several issues before the court, and he originally sided with the liberal wing in choosing Gov. Evers’ state legislative and congressional maps.

On March 23, the U.S. Supreme Court directed the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reconsider part of its March 3 decision adopting the redistricting plan proposed by Gov. Evers. In an unsigned opinion, adopted on a 7-2 vote with liberal Justices Kagan and Sotomayor dissenting, the Wisconsin high court was ordered to “choose from among the other submissions” or else to “take additional evidence if it prefers to reconsider the governor’s maps.”

Gov. Evers’ maps used race as a factor to create seven Assembly districts where Black residents are a very narrow majority of the voting-age population. The governor argued that this was necessary to satisfy the Voting Rights Acts (VRA) and related requirements because of population changes. However, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Wisconsin’s justices failed to consider whether there was a race-neutral alternative available that would otherwise satisfy the VRA and related equal protection jurisprudence.

In selecting the state legislative maps proposed by Republican leadership, the majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court argued that the maps are the best option because they are race-neutral while also satisfying the VRA, the Equal Protection Clause, and other applicable federal and state requirements. The maps also satisfy the “least change” approach to redistricting that the court established last year. In his concurrence, Justice Hagedorn wrote that he viewed “the Legislature’s proposal constituting our only feasible option” because he interpreted the U.S. Supreme Court’s order as directing the state’s justices to begin with a race-neutral map.

Although neutral with respect to race, the maps proposed by Republican leaders include five majority-Black Assembly districts, one fewer than the previous maps based on the 2010 Census and two fewer than Gov. Evers’ proposal. That will be the mostly likely point of contention if Gov. Evers or other parties decide to appeal this decision and ask the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the Legislature’s maps.

In a press release issued shortly after the decision was announced, Gov. Evers called the court’s decision “an unconscionable miscarriage of justice for which the people of this state will see no reprieve for another decade.” The governor criticized the court for choosing the Legislature’s proposal after initially rejecting those maps in favor of his own. Gov. Evers’ statement did not mention any plans to appeal the decision.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision on April 15 did not affect the state’s new congressional maps. In a separate, one-sentence, unsigned order issued on March 23, 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.

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