Veto-proof proposal comes a day after the State Supreme Court agrees to hear redistricting case by conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.
The Legislature’s top Republicans on Thursday introduced a measure aimed at reducing changes to the state’s gerrymandered electoral maps when they are redrawn this year.
The measure—introduced as a joint resolution, meaning Gov. Tony Evers cannot veto it—is authored by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg). It says redistricting should “retain as much as possible the core of existing districts” and limit the number of incumbent elected officials who are placed together in new districts.
Republicans were able to maintain a strong majority in the Assembly and Senate over the last decade by passing some of the most gerrymandered maps in the nation. Gerrymandering is a process in which political district boundaries are drawn to pack one party’s voters into as many or as few districts as possible, often resulting in strangely shaped districts.
If Evers does not sign off on the maps the Legislature draws this year, the issue will go to either state or federal court. Three separate lawsuits have asked either a left-leaning federal panel or the conservative-controlled state Supreme Court to take control of any legal challenges that arise.
“This resolution is yet another piece of the puzzle as Speaker Vos and his right-wing allies try to rig the maps and disenfranchise voters,” said Jacob Malinowski, communications director for the Fair Elections Project, in a statement.
The move by Republican legislators comes just a day after the Wisconsin Supreme Court said it would hear the redistricting lawsuit brought by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL).
WILL’s lawsuit mirrors two other redistricting suits brought this summer: One by a coalition of liberal groups, another by a prominent Democratic lawyer. It asks the justices to block those other lawsuits, however, to allow Gov. Tony Evers and the Legislature to work on new electoral maps, and, if required, draw new maps with the least changes possible, potentially locking in the gerrymandered map Republicans drew in 2011 for another decade.
Because of population changes revealed by the US Census, the suits argue that political districts no longer have a roughly equal number of people, which is a requirement in redistricting law. Where the WILL lawsuit differs is the venue it has chosen. The WILL lawsuit was filed directly with the conservative-controlled state Supreme Court, while the two others were filed in federal courts.
Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, called the Supreme Court’s move to accept WILL’s petition for review “a disappointing decision that ignores both the law and practical considerations. The State Supreme Court has no experience in these complex cases.”
“The reality is that whatever happens in state court still will almost certainly need to be reviewed in federal court, and this exponentially increases costs for the taxpayers, who will be paying for duplicative litigation in multiple venues. And this surely does not speed up the process,” Chheda said.
The Supreme Court’s decision comes a day after federal judges in the US District Court for Wisconsin’s Western District told parties in the now-consolidated federal redistricting cases to prepare for a Jan. 28 trial in the case.
On Thursday, attorneys with WILL filed a motion seeking to have the federal redistricting case stayed in light of the state Supreme Court’s decision to hear their case. The US District Court has stated it will give parties until Oct. 1 to respond to WILL’s motion or to otherwise address the question of how the state court’s decision to hear WILL’s lawsuit should affect the federal lawsuit.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission has told the US District Court that it needs to have approved electoral maps in place by March 1 if it is to effectively administer 2022 elections, which include the race for governor and US Senate.