The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently ruled the court would take a “least changes” approach to redraw Wisconsin election maps that Republicans passed in 2011.
The 4-3 ruling made along party lines announced Nov. 30 also said the court would not consider the partisan makeup of districts to make them “fairer,” according to Wisconsin Public Radio.
The ruling is likely to guarantee a Republican majority in the Wisconsin Legislature for the next decade, according to University of Wisconsin associate professor of law and redistricting expert Robert Yablon.
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“The ruling likely means that the state’s next set of electoral maps will be similar to the skewed maps we have had for the past decade,” Yablon said.
Republicans controlled the legislature when the 2011 maps passed and then-Rep. Governor Scott Walker approved the maps. Since then, Republicans have been the majority in the Wisconsin Legislature, even when Democrats have done well in elections, Yablon said.
District maps are redrawn every decade after new population data from the U.S. Census becomes available to ensure districts have equal populations.
“[2011 redistricting] was one of the most egregious partisan gerrymanders in the last few years in the United States,” UW American politics professor David Canon said. “It clearly made it so Republicans would be in the majority for the decade in the state legislature, even when they won less than the majority of the votes.”
The legislature passed redistricting plans in November this year similar to those passed in 2011.
But Gov. Tony Evers vetoed the maps, leading to the current Wisconsin Supreme Court intervention and decision, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.
“Claims of political unfairness in the maps present political questions, not legal ones,” said Justice Rebecca Grassl Bradley, who delivered the majority opinion of the court. “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.”
The majority concluded the court should make minimal changes to the maps.
The court plans to follow a “least-change approach.” This approach is not typical among courts when there are credible claims that the existing map is politically biased, Yablon said.
“In effect, a least-change approach that starts with the 2011 maps nullifies voters’ electoral decisions since then,” Justice Rebecca Dallet, one of the dissenters, wrote. “In that way, adopting a least-change approach is an inherently political choice.”
Specific maps have yet to be proposed and endorsed in the upcoming months. Based on the court’s criteria, Canon said it seems the final maps are likely to be finalized with a fairly strong Republican advantage.
There is not much Democrats can do with legal challenges since federal courts no longer decide partisan gerrymandering cases, Canon said.
“There really isn’t any federal basis, either under federal law or the U.S. Constitution, to challenge the Supreme Court’s decision,” Canon said, as long as the maps comply with equal populations and the Voting Rights Act.