Brief

U.S. high court reverses Wisconsin ruling on state legislative maps

By: - March 23, 2022 1:22 pm
The U.S. Supreme Court is shown June 21, 2021 in Washington, DC. up close reading Equal Justice Under Law

Supreme Court Releases Opinions WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 21: The U.S. Supreme Court is shown June 21, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Updated

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected legislative maps Wednesday that were drawn by Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, sending the maps back to the state Supreme Court that had approved them.

The 6-2 unsigned ruling states that the state high court erred in how the majority applied the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) in accepting the addition of a seventh majority-Black Assembly district in Milwaukee. 

“The question that our VRA precedents ask and the court failed to answer is whether a race-neutral alternative that did not add a seventh majority-black district would deny Black voters equal political opportunity,” the unsigned decision states. The opinion sides with Republican leaders in the state Legislature, who had appealed the state Supreme Court’s March 3 ruling claiming that the Evers maps were the result of a “racial gerrymander.”

In a dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, called Wednesday’s ruling “not only extraordinary but also unnecessary.”

The 4-3 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling had selected the maps Evers proposed on the grounds that they changed fewer voters’ districts than maps drawn by the Republican majority in the Legislature. 

The U.S. court’s ruling returns the case to the Wisconsin court and allows it to hear additional evidence “if it prefers to reconsider the Governor’s maps rather than choose from among the other submissions.”

Wednesday’s action was unexpected, given the proximity to the 2022 elections. The new ruling comes just three weeks before candidates would begin the process of collecting signatures to file to run for the state Legislature in November. With the state’s districts still unsettled, the process has stretched past the deadline that the Wisconsin Elections Commission said it would have to meet to be able to prepare for the races.

While throwing out the Assembly and Senate maps, the court left in place the Evers administration’s proposal for Wisconsin congressional districts.

Evers released a statement late Wednesday afternoon calling that part of the decision “good news.”

He called the rest of the high court’s decision “a remarkable departure, even from their own recent actions,” however.

“Our maps are far better than Republicans’ gerrymandered maps we have now and their maps I vetoed last year,” Evers stated, “and we are confident our maps comply with federal and state law, including the Equal Protection Clause [of the U.S. Constitution], the Voting Rights Act, and the least-changes standard articulated by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.”

Evers said he was ready to return to the Wisconsin court “who have already called our maps ‘superior to every other proposal’ to demonstrate again that these maps are better and fairer than the maps we have now.”

At a virtual event hosted by WisPolitics.com on Wednesday, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul called the new ruling “shocking” and an act of “increasing activism” by the high court’s six-member conservative wing.

“I think it’s pretty shocking to see this ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, and I think it’s frankly consistent with the increasing activism we’ve seen from the conservative supermajority on the U.S. Supreme Court,” Kaul said. “There have been several other states whose maps have been challenged and the court had consistently said that it was too late in the process to require courts or legislatures to draw maps, but apparently they’ve reached a different conclusion here in Wisconsin.”

This story has been updated with the reaction statement of Gov. Tony Evers late Wednesday afternoon.

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.

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