In a win for GOP lawmakers, the conservative majority on the state Supreme Court said today it will make the “minimum changes necessary” to the current maps as it sets new boundaries for Wisconsin’s legislative and congressional districts.
The 4-3 majority also rejected calls from Dems and other groups involved in the redistricting suit to consider the partisan makeup of districts in drawing new lines.
Dems have decried the current lines as a partisan gerrymander, arguing the 2020 election reinforced that as Joe Biden won the state by less than a percentage point a year ago, but won more votes than Donald Trump in just 37 of the state’s 99 Assembly districts and 11 of the 33 Senate seats.
Writing for the majority, conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley noted the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled there is no legal standard for federal judges to rule if a map is politically “fair.” She wrote that the Wisconsin Supreme Court is taking the same position.
“Claims of political unfairness in the maps present political questions, not legal ones,” Bradley wrote. “Such claims have no basis in the constitution or any other law and therefore must be resolved through the political process and not by the judiciary.”
In her dissent, liberal Justice Rebecca Dallet wrote the majority opinion had all but guaranteed that the court can’t remain neutral and nonpartisan in the redistricting process and “effectively insulates future maps from being challenged as extreme partisan gerrymanders.”
A federal three-judge panel had ruled the 2011 maps Republicans drew constituted a partisan gerrymander. But that ruling was undercut when the U.S. Supreme Court set the standard in another case barring federal judges from weighing in on whether a map is a partisan gerrymander.
Dallet added the upshot of today’s state ruling is “to elevate outdated partisan choices over neutral redistricting criteria. That outcome has potentially devastating consequences for representative government in Wisconsin.”
Fellow liberals Ann Walsh Bradley and Jill Karofsky joined in the dissent.
Today’s ruling puts in place parameters for the parties to follow as they submit proposed maps to the justices to consider.
The justices had earlier asked the parties to weigh in on several questions, including whether the court should consider the partisan leaning of districts in picking a map and if it should make as few changes as possible to the current lines, which Republicans drew when they had full control of the Capitol a decade ago. One of those questions includes the relevant state and federal laws the court should consider.
Ahead of today’s ruling, the court had set out a briefing schedule over the next month with a possible trial in January to set lines. Today’s decision will influence the arguments the parties will make going forward.
Though it was a 4-3 ruling in most regards, conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote his own concurring opinion. He took issue with the majority’s assertion that only legal requirements may be considered in setting the new lines. Hagedorn argued that wasn’t correct, citing the redistricting criteria of communities of interest. Though not a legal requirement, “it may nonetheless be an appropriate, useful, and neutral factor to weigh.” He also backed the “least-change” approach in his concurring opinion.
Conservatives Pat Roggensack and Annette Ziegler joined all parts of Bradley’s majority opinion.
Read the ruling.