By Karen Stokes
The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the state’s heavily gerrymandered state legislative maps are unconstitutional and ordered lawmakers to draw new maps ahead of the 2024 elections.
This was the first major decision for the new liberal majority Wisconsin Supreme Court.
In a 4-3 ruling along ideological lines, justices tasked lawmakers with drawing new maps, but wrote that if they fail to do so, the court could move forward with a preliminary “remedial” map-drawing process itself.
The previous legislative maps had heavily favored Republicans: They control 64 of the 99 seats in the state Assembly and 22 of the 33 in the state Senate, even though the last two presidential elections were both decided by less than 1 percentage point in the state and the last two gubernatorial races were both decided by less than 4 points.
“It is way past time to end illegitimate minority rule in Wisconsin, and this decision is a powerful step toward fair representation,” said Eric H. Holder, Jr., the 82nd Attorney General of the United States and Chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC).
“For more than a decade, Wisconsinites have been forced to live under unpopular policies enacted by artificial Republican legislative majorities, despite the fact that Democrats saw increasing—and sometimes majority—statewide support. Yet, Wisconsinites never gave up. They organized. They voted. They demonstrated that in order to protect democracy, we must DO democracy” Holder said.
In the Wisconsin Spring election last April, a one seat edge was all the majority needed to change the state’s politics with the victory of Judge Janet Protasiewicz. Her judicial race against conservative Judge Dan Kelly was the most expensive in U.S. history. This is the first time in 15 years that liberals have had a majority on the state’s highest court.
An order for how exactly to get fair maps was also entered, and that may be the more important piece going forward. They have laid out the roadmap to ensure fair representation for every Wisconsinite.
“Remedial maps must be adopted prior to the 2024 elections. We are hopeful that the legislative process will produce new legislative district maps. However, should that fail to happen, this court is prepared to adopt remedial maps based on the criteria, process, and dates set forth in this opinion and the concurrent order,” the justices wrote.
“The state is forging a new chapter for the state, moving out from the shadow of Scott Walker’s and Robin Vos’ anti-democratic legacy of voter suppression and onto the path toward a truly representative democracy. Make no mistake: We’ve got a long way to go. But Wisconsin proves that when the people participate, over time, states that may seem unreachable in the fight for fairness today, could indeed become beacons of justice in the years to come. Wisconsin is now on that path,” Holder said.