By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — In a huge win for Republicans, the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed it would take a “least change” approach in settling new state and congressional boundaries for the next decade.
The 4-3 ruling means the state’s high court will make only minimal changes to the current maps drawn up in 2011 by a Republican Legislature and governor. In short, the disputed maps will reflect the changes in the state’s population over the past 10 years, but they won’t be driven by political ideas of representational fairness.
“The United States Supreme Court recently declared there are no legal standards by which judges may decide whether maps are politically ‘fair.’… We agree,” wrote Justice Rebecca G. Bradley in the majority opinion held by the court’s four conservatives.
Wisconsin’s constitution requires the legislature — a political body — to establish legislative districts, Bradley wrote. Just as the laws enacted by the legislature reflect policy choices, so will the maps drawn by that political body.
“Claims of political unfairness in the maps present political questions, not legal ones,” Bradley wrote. “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.”
Gov. Tony Evers vetoed the Republican drawn maps passed last month by the Legislature. The Democrat claimed the redistricting plan was another round of gerrymandering by legislative Republicans. In his attacks, the governor omitted some inescapable facts.
Political boundaries drawn by Evers’ own People’s Maps Commission have been roundly criticized for Democratic Party power plays and for violating federal voting laws. Even Democrats hated the maps. Legislative Democrats voted against them, with Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Valez (D-Milwaukee) blasting the commission’s dissolution of black and Latino districts.
“A map that cancels out our voices, cracks and dilutes our vote, is immoral and it’s wrong,” she said.
The role of the court, Bradley wrote, is to make sure population adjustments to congressional and state legislative districts are made so no eligible voter’s vote is diluted. Politics is left to the politicians.
Justice Brian Hagedorn, while joining the majority, filed a concurring opinion asserting the court’s role may go beyond the purely legal or constitutional requirements. Hagedorn, who has broken with his fellow conservatives on high profile cases pitting the Legislature against Evers, wants to leave the door open to consider factors such as “communities of interest” in addressing political boundaries.
Justice Rebecca Dallet wrote the dissenting opinion for the court’s three liberals. The ruling, she warns, will have “devastating consequences for representative government in Wisconsin.”
Dallet insists again that the federal courts are the proper venue to resolve a state’s differences over political boundaries, that the state Supreme Court has no business getting into “the political thickets” of redistricting. But Dallet is already there.
As Empower Wisconsin has reported, Dallet’s bid for the bench in 2018 benefitted from at least $140,000 in political ads from former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder and his liberal gerrymandering group. Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) has injected itself into redistricting lawsuits, which could be a problem for Dallet who has said justices should recuse themselves from cases involving financial supporters of their campaigns.
As of Tuesday, NDRC had not entered the Wisconsin redistricting fray. But a group known as BLOC — Black Leaders Organizing for Communities — is a petitioner in the litigation before the Supreme Court. BLOC argued against the minimalist approach. BLOC also took credit for elevating Dallet to victory in 2018. The group openly claimed it was funded by NDRC.
Anthony LoCoco, deputy counsel for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, said the majority decision recognizes the proper role of the judiciary in the redistricting process. WILL is a petitioner in the case.
“We are pleased that the Court agreed with our arguments that political partisanship is not an appropriate factor to consider when redrawing district maps and that it should follow a least-changes approach in accomplishing its task,” LoCoco said.