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Wisconsin Supreme Court Approves Governor’s Proposed Redistricting Plan

March 6, 2022 by Dan McCue
Wisconsin Supreme Court Approves Governor’s Proposed Redistricting Plan
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers

MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Supreme Court approved a new set of congressional and state legislative district maps on Thursday that had been proposed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

“Hell yes,” said Evers in a statement released by his office after the 4-3 decision was announced.

“The maps I submitted to the Court that were selected today are 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,” Evers continued. “We still have a long way to go, and I will never stop fighting for nonpartisan redistricting as long as I’m the governor of this great state.” 

According to the governor’s office, the newly approved maps will likely maintain the Republican Party’s 5-3 edge in the state’s congressional delegation, but they will make it harder for the GOP to win a supermajority in the legislature — something it almost did in 2020.

A supermajority would position the legislature to override any and all vetoes by Evers.

The governor submitted his proposed maps to the court after it ruled last year that it wouldn’t consider a map that gave advantages to one side or the other.

The major difference between the maps he submitted and the maps rejected by the court is that the earlier map appeared to “pack” minority voters into the fewest districts at all possible — five, with an additional district where minority voters fell just below a majority — while the Evers state legislative map had seven minority-majority districts based on populations changes in the Milwaukee area over the past decade.

Writing for the majority, Justice Brian Hagedorn said while the court could not say “for certain … that seven majority-Black assembly districts are required by the Voting Rights Act … based on our assessment of the totality of the circumstances and given the discretion afforded states implementing the Act, we conclude the Governor’s configuration is permissible.”

“In addition, we have some concern that a six-district configuration could prove problematic under the Voting Rights Act,” Hagedorn continued. “The Legislature, for example, submitted a configuration with five majority-Black districts, and a sixth just under a majority. One of its proposed districts has a Black voting age population of 73.28%, a level some courts have found to be unlawful ‘packing’ under the VRA. 

“As a map-drawer, we understand that our duty is to determine whether there are “good reasons” to believe the VRA requires a seven district configuration. 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. Governor Evers’ assembly map accomplishes this,” he wrote.

In a lengthy dissent, Justice Annette Ziegler said the court should have adopted the Legislature’s maps, arguing that “the maps submitted by the Governor are unconstitutional and fatally flawed.”

“What’s next? Perhaps a federal court challenge before the United States Supreme Court. Although braving a face of finality, the majority opinion practically begs that the adopted maps be subject to further litigation,” Ziegler wrote.

The responsibility of setting new maps fell to the courts after Evers and the Legislature failed to agree on new post-census legislative and congressional districts. 

For the first time since 1964, the state Supreme Court opted to select the maps, breaking from its practice of relying on a federal court.

Evers said Thursday’s ruling “isn’t a victory for me or any political party, but for the people of our state who for too long have demanded better, fairer maps and for too long went ignored—today’s victory is for them.” 

The new maps will go into use beginning with the August 2022 primary elections, the court said.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said the Wisconsin Supreme Court adopted “the most reasonable maps possible that will deliver, under the circumstances, the best outcomes for Wisconsinites.”

“Thanks to Governor Tony Evers and the People’s Maps Commission, the people actually had a chance to be heard during this redistricting process,” Holder said. “The maps selected include the maintenance of two competitive congressional seats and the addition of a possible black-majority state Senate seat in the Milwaukee area.”

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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