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Legislative Update

U.S. Supreme Court reverses decision setting Wisconsin legislative district lines, sends case back to Wis. Supreme Court

by | Mar 23, 2022 | Election, Federal Issue, Legislative Update Blog, State Issue

The U.S. Supreme Court today (3/23) summarily reversed the decision of the Wisconsin State Supreme Court handed down earlier this month which adopted legislative redistricting maps submitted by Governor Evers. In a somewhat technical decision, the U.S. high court sided with arguments raised by state Republicans and remanded the case back to the Wisconsin Supreme Court for further proceedings not inconsistent with its order. 

This means legislative district boundaries for districts on the November 2022 ballot remain unsettled at this time, even though state statutes provide that nomination papers for those offices may be circulated as soon as April 15.  However, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s adoption of Congressional maps submitted by Governor Evers, so district lines for those races appear to be set, barring any further developments.

Leaders of Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature had asked the U.S. Supreme Court either to grant an emergency stay of the state Supreme Court’s ruling or to construe their application as a petition for certiorari and reverse the decision. Today’s unsigned ruling treated the Republicans’ filing as a request for certiorari, which a majority of justices granted, and then reversed the state court’s ruling. 

At issue in the high court’s holding was the question of whether maps submitted by Gov. Evers and approved by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, that would have created a seventh majority-black Assembly district in the Milwaukee area, were properly analyzed on Equal Protection grounds by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  The U.S. Supreme Court found the Wisconsin Supreme Court erred by not sufficiently considering the specific requirements of the Voting Rights Act when it adopted a map drawn by Gov. Tony Evers over other plans submitted to it.  

The U.S. Supreme Court found that such an analysis, should have been based on a “strict scrutiny.” Under a strict scrutiny analysis, the state must show that districting maps that sort voters by race must be “narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest.” It found specifically that the Wisconsin high court’s analysis of whether compliance with Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act was required—thus creating a compelling state interest for adding a seventh majority-black district—was inadequate. It further found the Wisconsin Supreme Court erred when it failed to determine whether a race-neutral alternative that did not add a seventh majority-black district would deny black voters equal political opportunity.

In its order remanding the Wisconsin court’s decision, the U.S. Supreme Court stated that, “[O]n remand, the court is free to take additional evidence if it prefers to reconsider the Governor’s maps rather than choose from among the other submissions. Any new analysis, however, must comply with our equal protection jurisprudence.”

UPDATE (3/28): The Wisconsin high court will now have to revisit the case to decide where to put the lines. Gov. Evers asked the Court to act swiftly in approving new maps and wants justices to allow him to submit additional evidence in support of his original maps or to allow him to submit new maps that would tweak the boundaries of the districts identified as problematic to reduce the number of black and/or Hispanic districts from seven to six.


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