The Wisconsin Supreme Court in session on Tuesday. (Screenshot | WisconsinEye)
The Wisconsin Supreme Court chose proposals by Gov. Tony Evers for new Assembly, Senate and Congressional maps in the state, though because of a decision last year, the maps don’t change much from the strict partisan gerrymander that has been in place for the last decade.
Because of Wisconsin’s political geography, a Democratic majority in the Legislature remains unlikely, but the court’s choice of Evers’ proposal does mean that a seventh majority Black Assembly district will be created in the Milwaukee area.
In the decision, conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn sided with the court’s three liberal-leaning justices, Ann Walsh Bradley, Rebecca Dallet and Jill Karofsky.
“In assessing the information presented by the parties, we conclude there are good reasons to believe a seventh majority-Black district is needed to satisfy the VRA,” Hagedorn wrote. “Governor Evers’ assembly map accomplishes this. For these reasons, we adopt Governor Evers’ proposed remedial state senate and state assembly maps.”
Last year, when it accepted the case, the court mandated that all submitted proposals adhere to a “least change” approach, meaning that lines not be moved too far from those that have been in place since 2011. For activists who have spent years fighting against the thumb these lines put on Wisconsin’s political scales, this was a massive disappointment, even if the addition of a new majority-Black district is a partial victory.
“The die was cast when a partisan majority on the Court ignored the Constitution, ignored the law, and sided with the interests of a few powerful Republican politicians over a supermajority of Wisconsinites who want fair maps,” Sachin Chheda, executive director of the Fair Elections Project, said in a statement. “The made-up ‘least changes’ framework, which has no basis in law, intentionally and unconstitutionally limited the options the court allowed itself to consider.”
“However, we must thank the Court today for one decision — this map correctly analyzes the population and includes seven VRA-compliant districts in southeastern Wisconsin,” he continued. “Let me be clear: this fight is still far from over, and those who worked to rig these maps will be held accountable for ignoring the Constitution and the law and for ruling against the people of Wisconsin in implementing a ‘least-changes’ map that continues the gerrymander.”
The court’s liberal justices agreed that the least changes approach has entrenched the 2011 gerrymander into Wisconsin’s elections in a concurrence written by Bradley and joined by the other liberal justices.
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“The people of Wisconsin deserve both a fair process and fair maps,” Bradley wrote. “We have cautioned that ‘[j]udges should not select a plan that seeks partisan advantage.’ Here, the ‘least change’ approach necessarily enshrines the partisan advantage adopted by the political branches ten years ago. Its application undermines, rather than fulfills, the promise of a truly representative government.”
In a statement, Evers applauded the decision with, “Hell yes.”
The governor called the maps he submitted “a vast improvement from the gerrymandered maps Wisconsin has had for the last decade and the even more gerrymandered Republican maps that I vetoed last year.”
He also vowed to continue campaigning to replace the current redistricting process in which maps are drawn by the majority in the Legislature with a nonpartisan system.
In multiple dissenting opinions, the court’s three other conservative justices criticized the majority and the Evers’ proposal for “dividing Wisconsin into racial categories,” as they stated their support for maps proposed by the Republican-held Legislature and their hope that the conservative-held U.S. Supreme Court will take up a challenge to the maps.
“It is my hope that the United States Supreme Court will be asked to review Wisconsin’s unwarranted racial gerrymander, which clearly does not survive strict scrutiny,” Justice Patience Roggensack wrote.
Conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley, who opens her dissent with a quote from Aristotle, alleged that the majority is ignoring the state constitution.
“The Wisconsin Constitution is the supreme law of this state, which all members of this court swore an oath to uphold,” she wrote. “The people of Wisconsin should be alarmed at the majority’s dismissiveness toward the constitution.”
The Wisconsin Elections Commission is now tasked with implementing the maps for the state’s partisan primary elections in August.
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