Public Interest

Battle Over Wisconsin’s Election Maps Heats Up in Supreme Court
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Legal Showdown for Control of Legislative Lines

In a pivotal legal battle, the fate of election laws in Wisconsin, a critical swing state, hangs in the balance. Attorneys are locked in a fierce debate over whether the Wisconsin Supreme Court possesses the legal authority to address gerrymandering, a practice favoring Republicans in the state. The outcome of this clash could significantly impact the political landscape in a state traditionally split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans.

Stakes for the GOP and Democrats

The Republican Party vigorously defends a powerful gerrymander that has secured advantages in approximately two-thirds of the state’s districts. Meanwhile, Democrats are pushing to discard existing district lines, advocating for creating new boundaries before the upcoming elections. Republicans, aiming for a potentially veto-crushing supermajority, are determined to maintain the status quo.

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Allegations of Unconstitutional Districting

Liberal voters argue that the current maps have created disparities, establishing superior and inferior classes of voters based on political viewpoints. They contend that Wisconsin has endured unconstitutional legislative districts for too long, eroding the state’s democratic core. The Democrats argue that it is time to rectify this injustice.

Constitutional Violations and Patchwork Seats

Part of the Democrats’ case is based on the assertion that the current maps violate the state constitution by creating patchwork seats where some residents live outside the geographical boundaries of their voting districts. State law mandates contiguous and geographically connected districts, which the current maps allegedly fail to adhere to.

Historical Context and Previous Supreme Court Ruling

In 2021, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the state’s political lines, emphasizing the need for the “least change” to existing maps if the Governor and the GOP couldn’t compromise. This decision solidified the gerrymander that Republicans had drawn in 2011, providing them with a 2-to-1 advantage in both the state Senate and Assembly districts.

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Wisconsin: The Nation’s Swingiest State

Wisconsin remains a pivotal battleground, the only state where the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections were decided by less than one percentage point. With representation in the US Senate split between Democrat Tammy Baldwin and Republican Ron Johnson, the state’s political dynamics are finely balanced. The ongoing legal battle adds another layer to Wisconsin’s already contentious political landscape.

Clashes Beyond Redistricting

The legal battle over redistricting is just one facet of the broader political conflicts in Wisconsin. Beyond electoral maps, the state legislature and Governor Evers’s clashes include attempts to remove the nonpartisan elections commissioner and disagreements over voting ground rules. Governor Evers has vetoed numerous election-related bills, intensifying the discord between the executive and legislative branches.

Calls for People’s Demands

As the legal battle unfolds, a coalition of voting groups urges the court to consider the demands of the people of Wisconsin. Ignoring these demands, they argue, would leave citizens aggrieved and their voices unheard.

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The Core Legal Question: Separation of Powers

At the heart of the case is whether favoring GOP-drawn maps over those preferred by Governor Evers violates the state’s separation of powers. Additionally, the dispute centers on whether disconnected portions of towns and cities outside district boundaries infringe upon state law.

Legislative Power and the Role of the Court

Governor Evers contends that seeking the “least change” benefits already advantaged political parties, hindering cooperation during the legislative process. Proponents of the existing maps argue that the court should leave them untouched, emphasizing the legislature as the body closest to the people. They caution against judicial overreach, comparing redrawing maps to exercising legislative power.

Potential Ramifications and Timeline

If the court sides with the opponents of the maps, creating a special master or judicial panel may become necessary to draw new lines swiftly. With filing for November races opening on April 15, time is of the essence.

The Legal Battlefield

Preparations for the legal arguments underscore the significance of the case. The state Supreme Court hearing room, accommodating only around 50 people, including clerks and the press, is the stage for a showdown involving 60 attorneys representing the litigants. Among them is Rick Esenberg, the founder and president of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, arguing against imposing “fairness” in political districts through the court’s intervention.

As Wisconsin braces for a legal showdown, the implications of the court’s decision will reverberate beyond the state’s borders, shaping the future of electoral redistricting battles across the nation.

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