Wisconsin Supreme Court Decision Win for Voters, More Work To Be Done

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The Wisconsin State Capitol building on a winter day with blue sky
The Wisconsin State Capitol and Supreme Court building in Madison Wisconsin.

On March 3, 2022, following an impasse between the Wisconsin legislature and Gov. Tony Evers on new election maps, the Wisconsin Supreme Court selected the maps proposed by Gov. Evers. Within the constraints set by the Wisconsin Supreme Court for new maps, this is a win for voters in Wisconsin.

Gov. Evers’ maps respect state and federal redistricting requirements and provide a better opportunity for Black voters in the Milwaukee area to participate in state legislative elections than did proposals from the state legislature.

The Wisconsin state legislative maps drawn in 2011 were among the most gerrymandered in the country. In 2016, CLC challenged the maps on the grounds they were an extreme partisan gerrymander and brought the case to the Supreme Court.

In a series of cases, the U.S. Supreme Court held that partisan gerrymandering claims cannot be heard by federal courts.

In August 2021, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and co-counsel filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of nonpartisan groups and individual voters challenging Wisconsin’s state legislative maps once again, after 2020census revealed the districts were unequally populated due to demographic shifts in the state.

In an amended complaint, plaintiffs alleged that Wisconsin’s state assembly plan also violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) by diluting the voting strength of Black voters in the Milwaukee area.

With litigation pending in federal court, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) asked the Wisconsin State Supreme Court to handle redistricting litigation. The Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed, and CLC and co-counsel intervened in state court on behalf of nonpartisan groups and individual voters, challenging the state legislative maps.

Following extensive briefing on the criteria to consider, the Wisconsin Supreme Court set guidelines for parties submitting maps, including that new state legislative districts must start with and change the previous decade’s gerrymander as little as possible.

CLC submitted state legislative maps and expert analysis demonstrating that Section 2 of the VRA applies to the drawing of assembly districts in the Milwaukee area, and that due to population shifts, it is possible to draw seven Black opportunity districts that provide Black voters an equal opportunity to participate in state legislative elections.

In adopting Gov. Evers’ state assembly map, the court relied on the evidence put forth by CLC and rejected other map proposals that would not comply with the state and federal redistricting requirements and the VRA.  

Wisconsinites deserve fair maps that allow them to choose their leaders instead of the other way around. While there is more work to be done to ensure every Wisconsin voter – regardless of background or zip code – can make their voice heard, this decision is a step in the right direction.

Annabelle is a senior legal counsel, redistricting at CLC.
Malapportionment in Wisconsin