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Demands grow for Wisconsin Supreme Court to redraw the state’s legislative maps

‘The bottom line is that we’re a purple state, and the Legislature should be very close to 50%,’ Gov. Tony Evers says.

By Rebekah Sager - October 19, 2023
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The Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court. (Roger Fountain)

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in November in a lawsuit challenging the state’s legislative maps, widely considered to be the most gerrymandered in the nation.

In 2020, Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers created an independent public advisory commission to draw up new maps that are now in the courts. 

The suit, Rebecca Clarke v. Wisconsin Elections Commission, was filed on Aug. 2 by Wisconsin voters who alleged that the maps are gerrymandered along partisan lines in violation of the state Constitution.

The lawsuit states that the “legislative districts are unconstitutional in numerous ways, ranging from an outright assault on Wisconsin voters in retaliation for how they vote and what they believe, to the most basic violation of the Wisconsin Constitution’s express requirements for district configurations.”

The Republican-led Legislature claims the maps are fair, and Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has threatened to impeach newly seated liberal Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz if she refuses to recuse herself from ruling on the maps, which she had spoken about during her election campaign. Her election in April gave the court a 4-3 Democratic majority.

“In Wisconsin, we’re a pretty purple state. Most of the statewide races in recent years have been decided by maybe 1 percentage point,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin told the American Independent Foundation earlier in October:

When Trump was elected in 2016, he won by maybe 20,000-plus votes in that margin of 1%. When Joe Biden won in 2020, it was by less than a 1-percentage-point margin. Our other U.S. Senate seat was up for reelection last year. It was decided by six-tenths of 1%. It was the closest Senate race in the country. And yet, our state Legislature is two-thirds Republican, one-third Democrat. That is because of gerrymandering. That’s because the districts were drawn in such a way to concentrate Democratic voters into a small number of seats and then have districts drawn to favor Republicans elsewhere, and it was done in a manner that, for the last decade-plus, we’ve had this lopsided Legislature.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has repeatedly asked that the Supreme Court redraw the maps ahead of the 2024 election cycle. On Oct. 17, Evers and Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a brief asking the court to reject the current legislative maps, calling them a “detriment of Wisconsin’s democracy,” according to a press release from the governor’s office.

Evers told the American Independent Foundation that he doesn’t believe that getting rid of gerrymandering will give Democrats an electoral advantage.

“I think the bottom line will be that we’re a purple state and the Legislature should be very close to 50%. And I think that will be a healthy thing for the state of Wisconsin,” Evers said. “I think at the end of the day, this will be a legislative resolve,” he said, adding that his hope is that the court will rule on the maps before the 2024 election.

Baldwin says when it comes to redrawing or tossing out the maps, the important questions are: Is partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional? Why do the maps impact so many issues in Wisconsin?

If we had a legislature that was reflective of the politics of the state, it would be 50-50. Some years there would be an advantage for Republicans, other years there’d be an advantage for Democrats. And we would have probably more moderate people running for office because they would have to appeal to a bipartisan constituency. But instead, with this lopsided Legislature, they produce legislation that seeks to take away rights and freedoms,” Baldwin said. “We’ve seen diminishment of labor rights in collective bargaining. We’ve seen an attack on people’s ability to get to access the ballot box, all sorts of encumbrances added to that process, and certainly with regard to a woman’s reproductive freedom.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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