U.S. Supreme Court’s Wis. redistricting case could shape FL’s congressional map

By: - March 23, 2022 4:48 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court is shown on June 21, 2021. Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

MADISON, Wis. — In a ruling with possible implications for Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected legislative maps Wednesday that were drawn by Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, sending the maps back to the state Supreme Court that had approved them.

The 6-2 unsigned ruling states that the state high court erred in how the majority applied the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) in accepting the addition of a seventh majority-Black Assembly district in Milwaukee.

“The question that our VRA precedents ask and the court failed to answer is whether a race-neutral alternative that did not add a seventh majority-black district would deny Black voters equal political opportunity,” the unsigned decision states.

The opinion sides with Republican leaders in the state Legislature, who had appealed the state Supreme Court’s March 3 ruling claiming that the Evers maps were the result of a “racial gerrymander.”

In a dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, called Wednesday’s ruling “not only extraordinary but also unnecessary.”

The same issue is at play in Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has threatened to veto the Republican-dominated Legislature’s plan to include a Black-trending seat in North Florida that DeSantis considers a racial gerrymander. DeSantis has proposed his own map eliminating that district and perhaps two more minority districts and carving out more GOP-leaning districts than the Legislature OK’d.

Lawsuits filed in state and federal courts ask judges to draw new Florida maps in time for qualifying in congressional races this fall.

The 4-3 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling had selected the maps Evers proposed on the ground that they changed fewer voters’ districts than maps drawn by the Republican majority in the Legislature.

The U.S. court’s ruling returns the case to the Wisconsin court and allows it to hear additional evidence “if it prefers to reconsider the governor’s maps rather than choose from among the other submissions.”

Wednesday’s action was unexpected, given the proximity to the 2022 elections. The new ruling comes just three weeks before candidates would begin the process of collecting signatures to file to run for the state Legislature in November. With the state’s districts still unsettled, the process has stretched past the deadline that the Wisconsin Elections Commission said it would have to meet to be able to prepare for the races.

While throwing out the Assembly and Senate maps, the ruling leaves in place the Evers administration’s proposal for Wisconsin congressional districts.

During a virtual event hosted by WisPolitics.com on Wednesday, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul called the new ruling “shocking” and an act of “increasing activism” by the high court’s six-member conservative wing.

“I think it’s pretty shocking to see this ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, and I think it’s frankly consistent with the increasing activism we’ve seen from the conservative supermajority on the U.S. Supreme Court,” Kaul said.

“There have been several other states whose maps have been challenged and the court had consistently said that it was too late in the process to require courts or legislatures to draw maps, but apparently they’ve reached a different conclusion here in Wisconsin.”

Note: Phoenix Deputy Editor Michael Moline contributed from Tallahassee.

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Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy, and related subjects for the Wisconsin Examiner, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom network, which includes the Florida Phoenix.