State Supreme Court reverses itself, picks GOP maps for Legislature

Hagedorn joins conservative wing in decision after siding with liberals previously

By: - April 15, 2022 6:20 pm
Hundreds of people packed the Capitol on Thursday for a day-long hearing on Republican legislative leaders' new voting maps, which advocates and experts say are gerrymandered to lock in GOP control.

Hundreds of people packed the Capitol for a day-long hearing on Republican legislative leaders’ voting maps, which advocates and experts said are gerrymandered to lock in GOP control. | Examiner photo

On Friday evening, the Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed course and chose new political maps decided by the Republican-held Legislature — extending the state’s strict partisan gerrymander for another ten years. 

March 1, the state Supreme Court decided Wisconsin’s new political dividing lines in a 4-3 decision. Conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn sided with the court’s liberals in choosing maps proposed by Gov. Tony Evers — which included an added majority-minority district in Milwaukee. 

On March 23, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state court’s decision on Wisconsin’s legislative maps, saying there needed to be more proof to justify the added majority-minority district. 

On Friday, Hagedorn sided with the conservatives. In the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Annette Ziegler, the conservatives said there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the added district was necessary. 

“Upon review of the record, we conclude that insufficient evidence is presented to justify drawing state legislative districts on the basis of race,” Ziegler wrote. “The maps proposed by the Governor, Senator Janet Bewley, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (“BLOC”), and Citizen Mathematicians and Scientists (“CMS”) are racially motivated and, under the Equal Protection Clause, they fail strict scrutiny.”

Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, said in a statement that the court had killed Wisconsin’s democracy. Since 2011, Wisconsin has had one of the strictest partisan gerrymanders in the country, baking a Republican majority into the Legislature that is nearly impossible for Democrats to overcome in the 50-50 state. 

“After years of organizing, hundreds of hours of litigation, tens of thousands of volunteers advocating, and millions of citizens calling for fair maps, the extremely partisan justices on the State Supreme Court are choosing to kill democracy in 2022,” Chheda said “Today, the justices in the majority chose judicial activism. The rigged maps drawn by the legislature last year were previously rejected three times — and these maps are even more gerrymandered than those drawn in 2011. Without any legal basis or precedent, and ignoring a decision they made just a month ago, the Wisconsin Supreme Court is showing its true colors: political gain over judicial fairness.”

Because the decision took so long, candidates for office were unable to start collecting nominating signatures on Friday, which was officially the day that candidates running for election this fall could begin circulating nominating papers and gathering signatures to get on the ballot. For legislative candidates, the lack of new maps has inserted confusion into that process. 

“Happy Nomination Signature Day to all WI candidates still wondering what their district boundaries are!” Rep. Lee Snodgrass (D-Appleton) tweeted. 

Candidates need to know where the lines of their district fall so they and their campaigns know which doors to knock on and which grocery stores to stand in front of. For the voters signing the papers, they need to certify that they live in the district in which the candidate is running — which, for now, is impossible to know. 

If legislative candidates do collect signatures before the maps are set, those signatures are open to challenges from opponents. How can someone have certified they live in the district if the district didn’t exist when they signed? 

Before Friday’s decision was announced, Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee), who is running for lieutenant governor and therefore not dependent on district lines, said the lack of maps has inserted a lot of confusion in the process and hampered attempts to recruit candidates to run in a year that is full of legislative retirements. 

“I have so many folks interested in running on the Democratic side and they have no idea, that’s causing a lot of confusion,” he said. “That’s not good for an era where we’re trying to protect democracy. It hurts people’s chances to get involved. It’s hard for candidate recruitment for sure as a number of conversations are happening for Assembly seats and we have a number of people who are not going to return next year. It’s important we have it ironed out. It is April 15 and we have no idea what these districts are going to look like.” 

Even with a decision, it’s unclear how long it will take for the maps to be in place. The Wisconsin Elections Commission is responsible for implementing the maps once they’re decided, which involves the complicated work of precisely placing the dividing lines in the state’s WisVote system. 

WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe has previously said it can take a while to input the lines, especially in locations where districts are divided by certain sides of a street or neighboring houses. 

Riley Vetterkind, a spokesman for the WEC, says how long that process takes is dependent on the direction the agency receives from the court, and he added he couldn’t give any more information on how candidates are supposed to proceed. 

“The timeline for implementing state legislative maps will depend on the direction provided by the Wisconsin Supreme Court,” he said in an interview before the court released its decision. 

Wisconsin’s new congressional maps were left alone by the U.S. Supreme Court, so Vetterkind said those lines were set in the system by Thursday so those candidates are able to proceed as normal. 

Spokespeople for the state’s Democratic and Republican parties did not respond to questions about what guidance they’re giving candidates. 


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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.