March 23, 2022

U.S. Supreme Court Sides with Republicans in Case on Wisconsin Redistricting

The U.S. Supreme Court has reversed the decision Wisconsin State Supreme Court’s decision from early March adopting Governor Tony Evers’ legislative redistricting maps, sending them back to the state Supreme Court for another look. The U.S. High Court ruled that Evers’ approved Congressional maps can stand.

This means that legislative district boundaries for the August 2022 Fall Primary Election and November 2022 General Election remain unsettled at this time, even though state statutes provide that nomination papers for district offices may be circulated as soon as April 15.

What the High Court Said

The High Court majority said the Wisconsin Supreme Court had not considered carefully enough whether the Voting Rights Act, the federal law that protects minority voting power, required the addition of a seventh assembly district in which Black voters made up a majority.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented, with Sotomayor saying “the court’s action today is unprecedented.” She added that “the court today faults the State Supreme Court for its failure to comply with an obligation that, under existing precedent, is hazy at best.”

Lawyers for Legislative Republicans and four voters submitted an emergency application to the High Court, calling the governor’s maps a “21st-century racial gerrymander” because they overemphasized race in drawing districts. Evers’ maps increase the number of State Assembly districts around Milwaukee in which Black voters make up a majority from six to seven. Republican legislative maps would have dropped the number of Black-majority districts from six to five.

Redistricting in Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s legislative maps have for the last decade been among the most gerrymandered in the nation, a result of aggressive strategy from the Republican majority elected with Scott Walker and Rebecca Kleefisch in 2010.

Governor Evers created the People’s Maps Commission to draw new maps based on the 2020 census, but Republican legislative majority ignored them, and in November, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that new maps should adhere to a “least-change” approach from the gerrymandered 2010 maps.

The governor and the Legislature both submitted maps to the court, which selected the governor’s maps in early March. Under Evers’ proposal, Republicans were highly likely to retain legislative majorities, though they were certain to shrink by a few seats.