MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Supreme Court justices on Wednesday questioned whether political boundary lines drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers or someone else should be the enacted for the next decade in arguments over redistricting.
The court was expected to issue a final decision within weeks to set the maps in time for candidates running for office this fall. There is also a federal lawsuit pending brought by Democrats that could be taken up after the Supreme Court issues its decision.
The state Supreme Court, controlled by conservatives, ruled 4-3 in November that it will adopt a “least change” approach and not make significant alterations to the current maps. That was a major win for Republicans, who drew the maps last time and have increased their majorities in the Legislature and Congress since.
The state court, like the U.S. Supreme Court, also ruled that it would not consider the partisan makeup of districts when drawing legislative maps, saying it has no standard to judge whether maps present an unfair partisan advantage.
Justice Brian Hagedorn, who is frequently a swing vote, asked the attorney representing Senate Democrats what specifically was illegal about the maps approved by the Legislature.
The Legislature’s map moves too many people and does it for a partisan advantage, attorney Tamara Packard said.
“I think it’s highly likely that you’re correct, but I think it’s highly likely that every other map did the same thing,” Hagedorn said in response.
Packard noted that no Democrats were involved in the drawing of the Legislature’s maps and they all voted against them.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has received proposed maps from Evers, the Republican-controlled Legislature, Democratic voters, the Republican congressional delegation, legislative Democrats, Citizen Mathematicians and Data Scientists and a coalition of groups including Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, Voces de la Frontera and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.
Questions by liberal justices early in the arguments, which were slated to last most of the day, focused on whether there should be seven legislative districts in Milwaukee that have a majority of Black and Hispanic voters. Challengers to the maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature argue that creating five such districts, down from the current six, is a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.
Justices also questioned attorneys about which of the submitted maps met its criteria to make the fewest changes, including moving the fewest people and not splitting up communities.
All of those maps had to adhere closely to the current boundary lines in place, per the court’s earlier order. The court said changes to the current maps should be limited to population shifts made apparent by the once-a-decade census.
Evers, for instance, submitted a map that would not be as favorable to Republicans as the one approved by the Legislature, but would still maintain their majorities in the state Senate and Assembly.
Redistricting, done every decade, is the process of redrawing the state’s political boundaries based on the latest census showing how populations have changed in neighborhoods, cities and counties since 2010. Mapmakers can create an advantage for their political party in future elections by packing opponents’ voters into a few districts or spreading them thin among multiple districts — a process known as gerrymandering.
Republican majorities in the Legislature grew after the map it drew was adopted in 2011. In 2018, Democrats won every statewide race but Republicans held more than 60% of legislative seats. Republicans blamed bad Democratic candidates, in part, while Democrats argued gerrymandering enshrined the GOP advantage.
Republicans have a 61-38 majority in the Assembly and 21-12 majority in the Senate. They also hold five of eight congressional seats.
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