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Thursday, May 23, 2024

While an independent group will draw a set of congressional maps to propose to the Wisconsin legislature, Republican leaders have already stated they won’t support the maps — which could lead to a court battle. 

What a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s GOP-drawn maps means ahead of the 2024 election

The historical tug-of-war over legislative districts in Wisconsin could shift after a coalition of law firms and advocacy groups filed a new lawsuit requesting action from the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

A coalition of law firms and voting rights advocacy groups filed a lawsuit on Aug. 2 arguing the Wisconsin’s Republican-drawn legislative maps are unconstitutionally gerrymandered and should be redrawn prior to the 2024 election. 

The lawsuit challenges the validity of the current maps and aims to give the Supreme Court “original jurisdiction” of the case, meaning it would be heard by the court immediately and not be referred first to district and circuit courts within the state, according to the New York Times

The lawsuit was arranged a day after Janet Protasiewicz joined the bench after a decisive 11-point win in last April’s state Supreme Court election. Her victory marked the first liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 15 years. 

If the challenge is successful, it would require all Senate and Assembly seat districts to be redrawn and all seats — including the Senate seats that are not otherwise up for reelection — to be on the ballot in 2024. 

The history of gerrymandering in Wisconsin

Redistricting, or the redrawing of legislative maps, occurs every 10 years and is based on population data from the latest state census. Gerrymandering occurs when a political party redraws the boundaries of voting districts in a way that gives their party an advantage.

For years, Wisconsin has had some of the most aggressively gerrymandered legislative districts in the country. And just in the last few decades, Wisconsin’s maps have changed dramatically.

In 1971, the Legislature drew a bipartisan map that was maintained for the next decade, while in 1981, 1991 and 2001, federal courts drew the new legislative districts due to a partisan gridlock, according to Fair Maps WI

By narrow margins, Republicans took control of both the State Assembly and State Senate in 2011.  Under the Scott Walker administration, GOP lawmakers were able to draw maps that heavily favored their party. 

This current map, which has been in place since 2011, has withstood multiple federal and state lawsuits since its creation, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. This includes a 2018 case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court

Protasiewicz ushers in liberal-leaning court 

Wisconsin’s new liberal-leaning state Supreme Court might just be the key in Democrats' push for new maps. 

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During her campaign, Janet Protasiewicz openly expressed support for investigating Wisconsin’s election maps, calling the current ones in place “rigged,” according to PBS Wisconsin

Back in 2021, the court opted to not redraw legislative maps. They instead chose a map from ones submitted by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the Republican-controlled Legislature. The map chosen closely resembled the one currently in place. 

The court based their choice on a new precedent, dubbed the “least change” methodology. 

“There’s no legal precedent. There’s nothing in the Constitution. There’s nothing in case law,” Protasiewicz said, according to PBS. “So you get this ‘least change’ rule that, quite frankly, if you talk to an uneducated voter about it, they might say, ‘you know, it sounds like it kind of makes sense — right? — kind of on its face makes sense, kind of, keeping the districts together.'”

The “least change” map didn't do much to help even out the playing field. Republicans within the state still maintained the advantage they gained from the 2011 redistricting, PBS reported. 

“This is where I say democracy’s on the line,” Protasiewicz told PBS on March 9. “You look at what’s happening in our state. You look at what the Republicans did with the redistricting. You look at the fact that the maps were — 10 years ago — a problem.”

With the announcement of this new challenge to the state’s legislative maps, Evers endorsed the call for fair maps in Wisconsin in a statement made on Aug. 2. 

“Today’s filing is great news for our democracy and for the people of our state whose demands for fair maps and a nonpartisan redistricting process have gone repeatedly ignored by their legislators for years,” Evers said his statement.

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Anna Kleiber

Anna Kleiber is the state news editor for The Daily Cardinal. Follow her on Twitter at @annakleiber03.

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