The Wisconsin Supreme Court in a 4-3 ruling Friday implemented the maps GOP lawmakers had proposed, finding they are race neutral and stick to the least-change approach the justices had previously set as a foundation for the lines.
The maps — barring a further legal challenge — could put Republicans on the verge of two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Legislature after the upcoming elections.
Republicans currently have a 61-38 majority in the Assembly and 21-12 majority in the Senate.
Under the current maps in place since 2011, Joe Biden won 37 Assembly districts as he took the statewide contest by more than 20,000 votes. If the GOP map had been in place two years ago, he would’ve won 35.
Both the existing Senate map and the one Republicans proposed have 11 Biden districts.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said it was a “relief” to have the maps resolved so candidates could start circulating nomination papers for the fall elections. The decision came down the same day that candidates were supposed to begin circulating nomination papers for the fall elections.
“We have thought our maps were the best option from the beginning,” Vos said. “We appreciate the court’s due diligence and are glad to move forward with these maps that make the least changes and comply with traditional redistricting criteria.”
Meanwhile, Dem AG Josh Kaul called the decision “a travesty for democracy in Wisconsin” and accused the court of making “one of the most extreme gerrymanders in America even worse.”
“This ruling entrenches control by politicians rather than voters, sapping what life remained from any claim that our legislature meaningfully represents the people,” he said.
The majority in Friday’s ruling concluded there is insufficient evidence to draw state legislative districts on the basis of race and said other proposals that had been submitted to the court were racially motivated and thus “do not survive strict scrutiny.” The GOP maps, the court added, are race neutral, comply with the Equal Protection Clause, meet other standards and adhere to an earlier directive from the court to make “minimal changes to the existing maps” that Republicans drew in 2011.
Justice Brian Hagedorn joined fellow conservatives in the majority after originally backing maps Gov. Tony Evers drew. But the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that decision, finding the Wisconsin justices had failed to do the required analysis needed to justify the seven majority Black Assembly districts that Evers had proposed, up from the current six.
Hagedorn wrote the lead opinion when the court earlier adopted Evers’ maps. In a concurring opinion Friday, Hagedorn wrote the Wisconsin justices would’ve taken a different approach to that decision if they had understood the standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hagedorn added he understood the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling as directing the state justices to start with a race-neutral map, writing he sees “the Legislature’s proposal constituting our only feasible option.”
He wrote complying with the U.S. Supreme Court’s directive “at this stage of the proceedings raises some difficult challenges.” That includes an incomplete record on how the maps comply with the Voting Rights Act. Completing that record would disrupt administration of the fall election.
“For better or worse, the only reasonable course I see is selecting a map based on the record we have,” he wrote.
The GOP map drops the number of majority Black Assembly districts to five. That could draw a legal challenge, though the majority in today’s ruling argued the lines comply with the Voting Rights Act.
In her dissent, liberal Justice Jill Karofsky wrote the GOP plan “leaves a significant number of Black voters dispersed into surrounding majority-White districts where their voting power is thus diluted.”
She faulted the majority for not doing a more detailed analysis to determine if the GOP map to ensure dropping to five majority Black Assembly districts complies with the Voting Rights Act.
“If, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Governor’s addition of a Milwaukee-area majority-minority district evinces a disqualifying consideration of race, then the Legislature’s removal of a Milwaukee-area majority-minority district reveals an equally suspect, if not more egregious, sign of race-based line drawing,” she wrote.
Karofsky was joined by fellow liberals Ann Walsh Bradley and Rebecca Dallet in her dissent.
The court today also rejected a request from the GOP members of Wisconsin’s House delegation to reconsider an earlier ruling that put Evers’ map in place for congressional districts. That map includes four solid Republican seats, two solid Dem seats and two swing seats — the 3rd in western Wisconsin with a slight Dem lean and the 1st in southeastern Wisconsin with a slight Republican edge.
Read the decision on the legislative lines.
See the Assembly map.
See the Senate map.