August 7, 2023

Lawsuit Challenging Legislative Maps Filed at Wisconsin Supreme Court

Lawsuit Challenging Legislative Maps Filed at Wisconsin Supreme Court Featured Image

A lawsuit aimed at fixing Wisconsin’s legislative maps to move toward fair representation has been filed at the state Supreme Court. By bypassing lower courts, the challenge would be expedited and could lead to an outcome before the 2024 elections.

The lawsuit, filed by Law Forward a day after Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz was sworn into office, includes several challenges under the Wisconsin constitution. WEAC is formally affiliated with Law Forward. Specifically, the challenges include:

The existing legislative maps are an extreme partisan gerrymander that violates various parts of the Wisconsin Constitutions. Specifically, the existing maps (1) retaliate against some voters based on their viewpoint and free speech, in violation of Wisconsin’s guarantee of free speech; (2) treats some voters worse than others based on their political views and where they live in violation of Wisconsin’s guarantee of equality; and (3) violate the promise of a free government found in the Wisconsin constitution.

WEAC celebrated the news after union educators worked for years to lay the groundwork for fair maps, including partnering with state groups and winning critical elections. “This filing is a victory for Wisconsin educators, and all state residents,” said WEAC President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen. “The Court must take up this case to provide voters with their constitutional right to fair representation.”

Wirtz-Olsen said fair maps are essentially to hold lawmakers on both sides of the aisle accountable for their votes on issues that impact public education. “Just last month, Wisconsin Public School educators witnessed harmful votes on school funding, voucher expansion and literacy measures without input from the professionals who teach the children,” Wirtz-Olsen explained. “Educators, parents and all Wisconsinites deserve representatives who reflect our shared values. Fair maps can make it so voters again elect our representatives instead of them selecting their voters.”

Governor Vetoed Maps in 2021

The existing maps are the exact same maps that Governor Tony Evers vetoed in November of 2021, a veto which the Legislature tried and failed to override. Law Forward attests that, by making them the maps we use for elections, the Court violated Wisconsin’s separation-of-powers principle and the governor’s constitutional authority to veto bills.

Wisconsin’s constitution requires that all districts be contiguous—meaning they cannot be made up of separate pieces of detached territory. Over half of Wisconsin’s current districts violate this basic provision of adjoining communities.

“Educators teach students that it is the duty of elected officials to promote the general welfare of all Wisconsinites,” Wirtz-Olsen said. “It’s time to return to that basic function of government.”

The petitioners, including two WEAC members, are from all across Wisconsin. In part, their petition reads, “The Petitioners here are voters- citizens of this state who seek to exercise their rights to speak freely, band together to advocate political beliefs, and obtain equal representation through the ballots they cast in lawfully drawn districts. This case is about ending the systematic silencing of voters across the state as punishment for daring to think, believe, and vote differently from a group of politicians who won a single election thirteen years ago and then set out to entrench themselves into power permanently, the state’s Constitution– and the rights of its residents– be damned.”

Other Issues Likely to Come Before Court

Along with redistricting, the Court will likely see petitions to take up other critical cases in the future, including voter and worker rights. WEAC is reviewing all options with regard to Act 10 and the restoration of collective bargaining rights in coalition with other unions. “We are proud that the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association and Madison Teachers Incorporated stand with us in developing strategy for moving forward together,” Wirtz-Olsen said.