Wisconsin Supreme Court says it will make ‘minimum’ changes to redistricting maps

Conservative majority says fairness of maps 'present political questions, not legal ones'
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MADISON, Wis. — Saying it is not their job to draw maps that are politically “fair,” the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority said Tuesday they will make the minimum number of changes necessary to the state’s current electoral maps to ensure they follow federal law.

The order came on a 4-3 vote along ideological lines.

“The United States Supreme Court recently declared there are no legal standards by which judges may decide whether maps are politically ‘fair,'” conservative justice Rebecca Bradley wrote in the majority opinion. “We agree.”

“Nothing in the constitution empowers this court to second-guess those policy choices, and nothing in the constitution vests this court with the power of the legislature to enact new maps,” Bradley continued. “Our role in redistricting remains purely a judicial one, which limits us to declaring what the law is and affording the parties a remedy for its violation.”

Democrats have said the current legislative districts — which were passed and signed into law by the Republican-controlled state legislature and Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2011 — are gerrymandered, accusing Republicans of “choosing their voters” instead of voters choosing their legislators.

Democrats called the maps passed by Republicans this year “Gerrymander 2.0” as the latest proposal from Republicans included further changes based on the previous maps. Gov. Tony Evers vetoed the maps passed by the Republican majority, putting the issue in front of the state’s supreme court.

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“Claims of political unfairness in the maps present political questions, not legal ones,” Bradley wrote in the majority opinion. “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.”

Liberal justice Rebecca Dallet wrote the dissenting opinion in the ruling, arguing the majority opinion is not as apolitical as it claims.

“First, the majority adopts 2011’s ‘sharply partisan’ maps as the template for its ‘least-change’ approach. And second, it effectively insulates future maps from being challenged as extreme partisan gerrymanders,” Dallet argued. “The upshot of those two decisions, neither of which is politically neutral, is to elevate outdated partisan choices over neutral redistricting criteria.”

“In that way, adopting a least-change approach is an inherently political choice. Try as it might, the majority is fooling no one by proclaiming its decision is neutral and apolitical,” Dallet added.

Working with the 2011 framework as a base for the new maps is inherently political, the liberal dissent argued.

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“It doesn’t matter which political party benefits from the 2011 maps, only that we cannot start with them and maintain judicial neutrality,” Dallet said.

The conservative majority said the changes should only be made to account for population shifts following the latest census and not consider whether one side or another has a perceived advantage baked into the maps. But Dallet argued that both Republicans and Democrats agree that the 2011 maps are now unconstitutional and need to be changed.

“That outcome has potentially devastating consequences for representative government in Wisconsin,” Dallet said. “In effect, a least-change approach that starts with the 2011 maps nullifies voters’ electoral decisions since then.”

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has said it will accept proposals until December 15 and then hold arguments on January 15.

There is also a federal lawsuit over Wisconsin’s redistricting, but that court has indicated it will defer to the state lawsuit for now.

In a statement Tuesday evening, Attorney General Josh Kaul said the court’s decision “strikes a major blow to our freedom—our freedom to choose our legislative leaders, to obtain changes to legislative policy, and to cast meaningful ballots for state legislative elections.”

“It almost certainly ends all hope for anything remotely resembling fair maps in Wisconsin for at least the next decade—and quite possibly much longer,” Kaul continued. “For a court to rule that a court-drawn map must be based on an extreme partisan gerrymander is simply stunning.”

You can read the entire court ruling here, or embedded below.