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Wisconsin Supreme Court approves congressional map proposed by Democratic governor

The 4-3 ruling is seen as win for Democrats, even though Republicans are likely to maintain their advantage in House seats.
Image: Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers addresses a joint session of the Legislature during his State of the State speech Feb. 15 in Madison.Andy Manis / AP file

In a 4-3 ruling, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court on Thursday approved congressional and legislative maps proposed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

“Hell yes,” Evers said in a statement Thursday evening celebrating the court's decision. He called the new maps “a vast improvement from the gerrymandered maps Wisconsin has had for the last decade and the even more gerrymandered Republicans maps that I vetoed last year.”

While the decision is a win for Democrats, the maps are likely to maintain the GOP's 5-3 congressional advantage and only narrow Republican control of the Legislature, according to the governor’s office. Evers resubmitted maps after the court said it wouldn’t consider partisan advantages in a ruling last year that fell along ideological lines.

The maps the court adopted would make it harder for state Republicans to win a legislative supermajority, which they narrowly missed in 2020. A supermajority would allow GOP legislators to override any vetoes by Evers — recently used to block bills to change election laws and ban the teaching of critical race theory.

The ruling followed hours of oral arguments over dozens of maps in January, which became contentious even among the justices.

In an extensive minority dissent, Justice Annette Ziegler said the court should have adopted the Legislature’s maps, arguing that “the maps submitted by the Governor are unconstitutional and fatally flawed.”

“What's next? Perhaps a federal court challenge before the United States Supreme Court. Although braving a face of finality, the majority opinion practically begs that the adopted maps be subject to further litigation,” Ziegler wrote in her opinion, which was joined by the two other dissenting justices.

The responsibility of setting new maps fell to the courts after Evers and the Legislature failed to agree on new post-census legislative and congressional districts. For the first time since 1964, the state Supreme Court opted to select the maps, breaking from practice of relying on a federal court.

In November, the court gave Republicans a win with a divided opinion, saying it would accept only “remedial maps to correct malapportionment in legislative districts” and rejecting Democratic calls to undo the partisan gerrymandering in existing maps, which locked in GOP legislative power over the past decade. The court sided with Republicans and said it wouldn’t consider partisan fairness or try to create new maps but instead would amend existing maps under a “least-change approach.”

Thursday’s opinion was written by Justice Brian Hagedorn, a conservative who often is considered a swing vote, who sided with the court’s three liberal justices. The majority concluded that Evers’ maps kept the most voters in their existing districts, met state and federal constitutional requirements and complied with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in creating an additional majority-Black district in the Milwaukee area.

A federal lawsuit brought by Democrats asking a three-judge panel to draw new maps is still pending.