The Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked a revised plan for legislative districts in Wisconsin that created a new Black voting district and was opposed by Republicans.
The new map, drawn by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, created a Black-majority state House district touching Milwaukee. Republicans urged the court to block the plan and instead revert to boundaries drawn up by the GOP-controlled Legislature. They were rejected by the state Supreme Court, which ordered election officials to follow the governor’s map, instead.
In an unsigned opinion, the Supreme Court said Evers’ plan embraced “the sort of uncritical majority-minority district maximization that we have expressly rejected.”
But the high court declined to block new maps for the state's congressional districts, rejecting a challenge filed by state Republicans. While the new maps would make minor changes to the boundary lines for the state’s eight congressional districts to account for population changes, they would still preserve the Republicans’ 5-3 advantage.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented on the question of the state’s legislative districts. They said the court punished the state for failing to comply “with an obligation that, under existing precedent, is hazy at best.”
The Republicans contended that their map made minimal changes to existing districts, “consistent with the demographic reality that Milwaukee’s Black population remained almost the same between 2010 and 2020.”
It was the latest in what are likely to be dozens of redistricting challenges to reach the high court after the 2020 census. In the past several weeks, the justices acted on political boundary cases from Alabama, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
In a victory for Alabama Republicans, the court cleared the way for the state to use a map drawn by the Legislature. A lower federal court said the map violated the Voting Rights Act by denying Black voters a new district.
But the Supreme Court rejected Republican efforts to use GOP-endorsed redistricting in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. In those states, the maps were thrown out and replaced by plans state courts selected in response to legal challenges.
The justices said an emergency appeal filed by Republicans in Pennsylvania was premature given that the case is pending before a lower federal court.
In the North Carolina case, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the timing of the challenge prevented the court from taking it up because of the impending state primary election.
“It is too late for the federal courts to order that the district lines be changed for the 2022 primary and general elections, just as it was too late for the federal courts to do so in the Alabama redistricting case last month,” he wrote.
However three of the court’s conservatives, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, said the court should have taken the North Carolina case because of the importance of the underlying issue of whether state courts have the authority under the Constitution to reject maps drawn by legislatures.
“There must be some limit on the authority of state courts to countermand actions taken by state legislatures when they are prescribing rules for the conduct of federal elections,” Alito wrote for the three dissenters.
He noted that the Constitution provides that rules governing the “times, places and manner” of holding elections for senators and U.S. representatives must be “prescribed in each state by the Legislature thereof.”
Court battles over redistricting are pending in at least 15 states.