wisconsin supreme court hands dems a win orders new legislative maps

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The liberal-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned Republican-drawn legislative maps on Friday and ordered that new district boundary lines be drawn as Democrats had urged in a redistricting case they hope will weaken GOP majorities.

The ruling comes less than a year before the 2024 election in a battleground state where four of the six past presidential elections have been decided by fewer than 23,000 votes, and Republicans have built large majorities in the Legislature under maps they drew over a decade ago.

The court ruled 4-3 in favor of Democrats who argued that the legislative maps are unconstitutional because districts drawn aren’t contiguous. They also argued that the Supreme Court violated the separation of powers doctrine.

“Because the current state legislative districts contain separate, detached territory and therefore violate the constitution’s contiguity requirements, we enjoin the Wisconsin Elections Commission from using the current legislative maps in future elections,” Justice Jill Karofksy wrote for the majority.

The court said it will proceed with adopting remedial maps in time for the 2024 election unless the Republican-controlled Legislature can pass maps that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will sign. Evers vetoed the current maps.

The lawsuit was filed a day after the court’s majority flipped to 4-3 liberal control in August. That’s when Justice Janet Protasiewicz joined the court after her April election victory.

MADISON, WISCONSIN - August 1: Janet Protasiewicz, 60, is sworn in for her position as a State Supreme Court Justice at the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda in Madison, Wis. on August 1, 2023. (Photo by Sara Stathas for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

MADISON, WISCONSIN – August 1: Janet Protasiewicz, 60, is sworn in for her position as a State Supreme Court Justice at the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda in Madison, Wis. on August 1, 2023. (Photo by Sara Stathas for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
The Washington Post via Getty Images

Protasiewicz called the GOP-drawn maps “unfair” and “rigged” during her campaign, leading Republicans to threaten to impeach her before she had even heard a case. She sided with the other liberal justices in striking down the current maps.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who had threatened impeachment the loudest, backed off on Wednesday and said even if she ruled in favor of throwing out the maps, impeachment was “super unlikely.”

She joined with Karosfky and justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Rebecca Dallet in the majority. Conservative justices Annette Ziegler, Rebecca Bradley and Brian Hagedorn dissented.

The ruling comes one month after the court heard oral arguments in the case in November. The state elections commission has said maps must be in place by March 15 if the new districts are to be in play for the 2024 election.

Democrats argued for having all 132 lawmakers stand for election under the new maps, including half of the members of the state Senate who are midway through their four-year terms. The Legislature argued that no new maps should be enacted any sooner than the 2026 election.

Democrats argued in Wisconsin that the majority of current legislative districts — 54 out of 99 in the Assembly and 21 out of 33 in the Senate — violate the state constitution’s contiguity requirement.

Wisconsin’s redistricting laws, backed up by state and federal court rulings over the past 50 years, have permitted districts under certain circumstances to be noncontiguous, attorneys for the Legislature argued. Even if the court decided to address the issue, it could only affect alleged areas where districts aren’t contiguous and not upend existing district lines, Republicans argued.

Democrats also argued that the Supreme Court violated the separation of powers doctrine when it adopted the Republican-drawn map that Evers had previously vetoed, “improperly seizing powers for itself the Constitution assigns to other branches.”

The legislative electoral maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011 cemented the party’s majorities, which now stand at 64-35 in the Assembly and a 22-11 supermajority in the Senate.

Since taking the majority in 2011, Republicans have enacted a wide range of conservative priorities. They have all but eliminated collective bargaining for public workers, and since 2019 they’ve been a block on Evers’ agenda, firing Evers appointees and threatening impeachment of Protasiewicz and the state’s elections leader.

Republicans are also just two seats short of a supermajority that would allow them to overturn Evers’ vetoes.

Litigation is ongoing in more than dozen states over U.S. House and state legislative districts enacted after the 2020 census.

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