Lawsuit asks Wisconsin Supreme Court to draw new maps by March

By: - October 18, 2023 12:36 pm

The Wisconsin Supreme Court chambers. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)

Voters who filed a lawsuit against Wisconsin’s legislative maps asked the liberal-leaning state Supreme Court to draw new maps by March, forcing every state lawmaker to run for re-election next fall. 

In legal briefs filed earlier this week, the voters argued that the current maps so heavily favor Republicans that they need to be tossed out. 

“The current maps are unsalvageable,” the voters’ attorneys argued.

Republicans, facing the potential loss of the grip on legislative power they’ve maintained since they drew the maps in 2011, argued in a reply that the lawsuit was just Democrats exercising “raw political power” to have the new liberal majority on the court institute new maps, overturning the Court’s 2021 decision affirming the current maps.

“A change in this Court’s membership cannot justify overturning that precedent,” attorneys for the Legislature wrote.

Republicans have used the near-supermajority power the maps have granted to them to restrict the power of labor unions, limit the power of Democratic officials in executive offices and to block the agenda of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers — including on Tuesday when the Senate voted to fire seven of Evers’ appointees to state boards and commissions. 

Evers has intervened in the lawsuit, asking the Court to institute new maps. In a filing, his lawyers wrote that the current maps have harmed the state’s democracy.

“This Court should declare Wisconsin’s legislative maps unconstitutional and institute new maps,” Evers’ filing states. “As a remedy, new maps should promote responsiveness to the vote and adhere to the constitutional and statutory mandates while avoiding the partisan bias that has infected the legislative maps to the detriment of Wisconsin’s democracy.”

The lawsuit over the maps has roiled Wisconsin politics since it was filed just days after the Court’s new majority was established with the swearing in of Justice Janet Protasiewicz in August. Republicans had requested Protasiewicz recuse herself from the case over comments she made during her campaign that the maps were “rigged” and campaign contributions she received from the state Democratic Party. In the filings, Republicans argued that Protasiewicz’s comments “invited” the lawsuit. 

Protasiewicz denied the request for recusal — despite Republican warnings that they may move to impeach her if she weighs in on the lawsuit. 

The constitutionality of the maps is being challenged on two issues — the contiguity of the state’s legislative districts and the separation of powers when the maps were established. 

The state Constitution requires that all legislative districts be contiguous. The voters bringing the lawsuit argue that a majority of the state’s Assembly and Senate districts are not. Under the maps, 54 of 99 Assembly districts and 21 of 33 Senate districts are non-contiguous. The brief from the voters states that this makes Wisconsin an outlier in the country, noting that 46 states have entirely contiguous districts and the other three have a total of nine non-contiguous districts. 

Republicans argued that state and federal courts have allowed non-contiguity in Wisconsin’s maps for the past 50 years and even if it is unconstitutional, it should only allow for the redrawing of those specific districts, not the entire map. 

The voters also argue that when the Court instituted the maps in 2021, it violated the Constitutional separation of powers because it selected maps drawn by the Legislature that had previously been vetoed by Evers — usurping the governor’s authority to strike down legislative actions. 

Oral arguments in the lawsuit are scheduled for Nov. 21.


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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.