MADISON, Wis. — A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday sided with Republicans in a redistricting dispute, ruling that it saw no need to make significant changes to the maps that have helped the GOP win majorities in the state Legislature and congressional delegation.
The 4-3 ruling rejected Democrats arguments that the current maps are heavily skewed to favor Republicans and dilute Democratic voting power.
Republican majorities in the Legislature grew after the map it drew was adopted in 2011, even as Democrats won election to statewide office. The court’s ruling makes it all but certain those GOP majorities will stay in place for the next decade.
The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty brought the lawsuit and argued that the fairest and most neutral way to resolve redistricting was to take a “least change” approach and adjust only for population changes. Democrats and their allies have argued that the new maps should be drawn from scratch.
But the Supreme Court's conservative majority said changes to the current maps should be limited to population shifts made apparent by the once-a-decade census. It also said it will not take into account the partisan makeup of the districts, rejecting the Democratic argument that not considering that will only entrench the current GOP majorities.
“We adopt the least-change approach to remedying any constitutional or statutory infirmities in the existing maps because the constitution precludes the judiciary from interfering with the lawful policy choices of the legislature,” the court said.
In explaining why the court wouldn't consider the partisan makeup of districts, Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote for the majority that those are “political questions, not legal ones.”
“Such claims have no basis in the constitution or any other law and therefore must be resolved through the political process and not by the judiciary,” Bradley wrote.
Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, said the majority of the court “has once again demonstrated its loyalty is to the Republican Party, not the laws of Wisconsin.”
“Whatever comes from this corrupt nonsense, if it’s not fair to our state, it shouldn’t be accepted by federal courts, and most importantly, it won’t be accepted by the people of Wisconsin," Chheda said.
States are tasked with redrawing boundary lines every decade after each census. Republicans controlled the Legislature and governor's office in 2011, the last time it was done. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed the Republican maps this year, putting the battle in court. Evers called the maps “gerrymandering 2.0.”
There is also a federal lawsuit pending brought by Democrats, but that court has said it will defer for now to the state lawsuit. It's not clear if the federal court would take up redistricting after the state Supreme Court has completed the case.
Democrats pushed for the federal courts to enact new maps, just as they have done in recent decades when the Legislature and governor couldn't agree. The state Supreme Court last handled redistricting in 1964.
Justices Bradley, Brian Hagedorn, Patience Roggensack and Annette Ziegler ruled for the majority. Liberal justices Rebecca Dallet, Ann Walsh Bradley and Jill Karofsky dissented.
In the dissent, Dallet noted that federal courts have historically resolved redistricting issues. The Supreme Court's ruling that minimal changes be made to the current GOP-drawn maps “all but guarantees” that it will not be neutral and nonpartisan when taking on redistricting, Dallet wrote.
“Adopting a least-change approach is an inherently political choice,” Dallet wrote. “Try as it might, the majority is fooling no one by proclaiming its decision is neutral and apolitical.”