Wisconsin Supreme Court
The entrance to the Wisconsin Supreme Court chambers in the state Capitol in Madison. (Photo by Christina Lieffring)

Wisconsin Supreme Court chooses GOP maps that eliminate one Black-majority Assembly district after the US Supreme Court ruled Gov. Evers’ maps aren’t “race-neutral” because they added a district.

Just before 5 p.m. on Good Friday and already one day into the official fall campaign season, the conservative justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court released their order on what map the state Legislature will use for the next 10 years—using unprecedented judicial activism to approve a Republican-drawn map that had been vetoed by Gov. Tony Evers. 

GOP lawmakers did not have the votes to override the veto. The conservative justices did it for them on a 4-3 vote, choosing the most gerrymandered set of district boundaries among those submitted to the court—calling them the only lines that were “race-neutral” because the other submissions addressed generations of racial disparities.

Originally, the Wisconsin justices selected a map submitted by Evers—which took the number of majority-Black Assembly districts to seven from the current six. The Republican maps chosen today shrink the number to five.

The ruling on March 3 in favor of Evers’ map was appealed by GOP lawmakers to the US Supreme Court. Justices on March 23 said the state court hadn’t considered a more “race-neutral alternative” to what Evers submitted.

Because of an unusual order by the state justices last year that demanded a “least changes” approach, the Republican-drawn map makes relatively modest modifications to the current lines drawn in 2011, written in secret and widely regarded as the most gerrymandered in the country. 

“Time and time again, our high courts have let the people of Wisconsin down,” said Sachin Chheda, Wisconsin Fair Election Project director. “From the lawless least-changes approach in Wisconsin, to the US Supreme Court meddling in our elections at the last minute, our current courts are not demonstrating a commitment to the law, the constitution or the people.”

The agreement by conservative US Supreme Court justices to take up the Wisconsin case so close to when candidates would begin filing for office came under sharp criticism. By sending the case back to the state court, uncertainty about the district lines extended into Friday—the first official day that candidates could begin collecting signatures on nominating petitions. Signatures collected from voters later determined as living outside a candidate’s new district will be rejected. 

The extended legal process affirmed a belief by progressive Justice Jill Karofsky, noted in her dissent, that said the state court should not have inserted itself into redistricting for the first time; instead the matter should have been handled by “a politically insulated federal court .. better able to conduct extensive fact-finding through trial-style litigation, a task for which we proved ill equipped.”

But conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley said enough time had already been spent on the matter, and it was not necessary to more carefully assess whether the GOP map will withstand a further court challenge.

“To quote a more modern source, ’the clock’s run out, time’s up, over, blaow,” she wrote, quoting Eminem.

When Evers vetoed the Republican maps on November 18, he said what most observers had been expecting—that federal and/or state courts would look for a compromise set of boundaries.

“These gerrymandered maps will not become law,” Evers said in a video message.

He and others did not count on two supreme courts providing the legislative branch with an unprecedented assist.