What the Wisconsin Supreme Court race could mean for the state’s Republican-drawn redistricting maps


On April 4, Wisconsin voters will select a brand new justice to take a seat on the state’s highest courtroom — however the race might finally go a protracted option to deciding who sits within the Legislature.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court docket race has been referred to as an important election within the nation this 12 months, and the brand new courtroom will probably be requested to weigh in on any variety of pivotal points, together with, most prominently, whether or not to strike down the state’s abortion ban. However it might additionally think about a problem to the state’s political district maps, which have been described as among the many most gerrymandered within the nation.  

Whether or not the courtroom takes that step virtually absolutely is dependent upon who wins subsequent month’s election. A victory by former Justice Dan Kelly would protect the 4-3 conservative majority. A win by Milwaukee County Decide Janet Protasiewicz would give liberals management of the courtroom for the primary time since 2008. 

 If the latter occurs, it might open the door to a redistricting case, stated Rob Yablon, a College of Wisconsin-Madison regulation professor and redistricting skilled. 

“The courtroom probably would have that chance,” Yablon stated. “I believe there are litigants who would virtually definitely attempt to deliver a case.” 

What the courts have stated 

Wisconsin is a quintessential “purple state,” cut up almost 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. In statewide elections, typically Republicans win and typically Democrats do. 

For greater than a decade, Republicans have held robust management of each homes of the state Legislature, thanks partly to the district strains they drew in 2011. 

In 2015, Wisconsin Democrats thought they’d the reply to this — a brand new normal to measure gerrymandering that will give federal courts the flexibility to rule when a redistricting plan was too partisan. 

They took the concept all the way in which to the U.S. Supreme Court docket, however the day they made their arguments, it was apparent some justices had their doubts. Chief Justice John Roberts referred to as their concepts “sociological gobbledygook.” The case was finally remanded to a decrease courtroom, and in 2019, the Supreme Court docket slammed the door to the concept when it determined that partisan gerrymandering wasn’t justiciable on the federal degree. 

On the time, it appeared like a nail within the coffin for Democrats’ hopes to safe totally different district maps. One other spherical of redistricting got here and went in 2021, and as soon as once more Wisconsin was left with maps that closely favor Republicans within the Legislature. 

However in line with Yablon, one avenue stays: state courts, together with the Wisconsin Supreme Court docket. In actual fact, the Supreme Court docket “explicitly left the door open” for state courts to contemplate partisan gerrymandering claims, he stated.

And that is why the maps are an enormous concern on this 12 months’s race for Wisconsin’s courtroom race. 

“I’ve little doubt that if the courtroom’s composition adjustments, somebody goes to attempt to pursue that case,” Yablon stated. 

The state’s present maps had been drawn by Republican legislators in 2021, primarily based on the maps Republicans drew 10 years earlier than. In that point, the GOP has held robust management of each homes of the Legislature, even in years when Democrats did nicely in statewide elections. Totally different maps may change that energy stability, Yablon stated. 

“There has not been significant competitors for management of the Wisconsin Legislature,” Yablon stated. Totally different maps “would no less than increase the likelihood that there could be a significant combat for legislative management.” 

If Democrats had been to achieve management within the Legislature, it might open the door to any variety of coverage adjustments that they have not been capable of pursue in current historical past, like increasing Medicaid, legalizing marijuana and codifying abortion rights. 

What the candidates are saying 

With the political stakes excessive, Protasiewicz, the candidate supported by Democrats, has made clear how she feels in regards to the present, Republican-drawn district strains. 

“Let’s be clear right here: the maps are rigged,” she stated at a candidate discussion board in January. “Completely, positively rigged. They don’t mirror the individuals within the state.”

Protasiewicz stated the present Supreme Court docket made a mistake when it upheld the maps, and has stated she want to take a contemporary have a look at them. However she says she’s not saying how she would rule on a redistricting case ought to it come earlier than the courtroom.

“I am unable to ever let you know what I’ll do on a specific case,” Protasiewicz stated. “However I can let you know my values.”

On the similar discussion board, Kelly, the candidate backed by Republicans, took concern with that assertion.

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“I believe when somebody tells you what their values are in reply to a authorized query, they’re telling you the way they are going to resolve a case,” Kelly stated.

Kelly defended the rationale behind the courtroom’s determination to uphold the maps final 12 months and stated private values mustn’t play a task with regards to contemplating redistricting.

“When a map involves the courtroom, with a problem that it’s illegal in some regard,” he stated, “the courtroom’s duty is restricted to contemplating the authorized challenges, not the political challenges.”

What attorneys are saying 

Jeff Mandell, board president of the liberal group Legislation Ahead and lawyer at Stafford Rosenbaum in Madison, believes there are a number of areas of the state structure that may very well be grounds for a problem. 

“There isn’t any exhausting and quick plan,” he stated. “There isn’t any criticism or doc that’s written. However there are many conversations happening about what such a lawsuit would appear like.”

A problem may very well be primarily based on the state structure’s redistricting provisions, he stated, but in addition on different areas associated to voting. 

“You might additionally think about claims that perhaps it violates that proper to vote,” he stated. “Is the correct to vote merely the correct to face on a line on Election Day and forged a poll? Or is it a proper to forged a significant poll?”

Rick Esenberg, president of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Legislation and Liberty, says that even when a map problem had been to be introduced earlier than the state Supreme Court docket, he doubts a violation of the Wisconsin Structure may very well be confirmed. 

“The issue is that there actually is not something within the Wisconsin Structure, apart from a requirement that the maps be contiguous and compact,” he stated. “And the factor in regards to the maps in Wisconsin is that they’re contiguous and compact.” 

Mandell stated it is vital to notice that new maps would not assure Democratic management in a state that is cut up 50-50. 

“I am not telling you which ones celebration goes to regulate the Meeting or which celebration goes to regulate the Senate, that very nicely won’t change,” he stated. “What it might imply is that we might have a legislature that’s conscious of what the individuals need.” 

If the courtroom flips, Mandell stated a problem to the maps would probably be filed shortly. The brand new justice will probably be seated on Aug. 1.

For extra on the historical past of redistricting in Wisconsin and the way it impacts political energy within the state, try WPR’s investigative podcast sequence, “Mapped Out.”

Editor’s notice: This story has been up to date to mirror Jeff Mandell is board president of Legislation Ahead and an lawyer at Stafford Rosenbaum in Madison.