Wisconsin Supreme Court declines to hear congressional redistricting challenge requested by Democrats

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit seeking to throw out the battleground state's congressional maps, saying it would not hear a case filed on behalf of a group of Democratic voters.

Associated Press

March 1, 2024

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Annette Ziegler and Rebecca Bradley sit in high-backed leather chairs at a judicial bench with a nameplate reading J.R. Bradley, with a row of empty high-backed wood and leather chairs behind them in a room with marble pillars and masonry.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices Annette Ziegler and Rebecca Bradley listen to oral arguments in a case on Sept. 7, 2023. The high court issued an order on March 1, 2024, declining to take up a challenge to the state's congressional district maps that was filed on behalf of Democratic voters. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

AP News

By Scott Bauer, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The liberal-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court on March 1 rejected a Democratic lawsuit that sought to throw out the battleground state’s congressional maps, marking a victory for Republicans who argued against the court taking up the case.

The decision leaves the state’s current congressional district boundaries in place for the November election.

The decision not to hear the congressional challenge comes after the court in December ordered new legislative maps, saying the Republican-drawn ones were unconstitutional. The GOP-controlled Legislature, out of fear that the court would order maps even more unfavorable to Republicans, passed ones drawn by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. He signed those into law on Feb. 19 and urged the court to take up the congressional map challenge.

The Elias Law Group, which filed the congressional challenge on behalf of Democratic voters, said the court’s decision on the legislative maps opened the door to them revisiting the other maps.

But the court declined to take up the case. It did not give a reason in the unanimous unsigned order.

Justice Janet Protasiewicz, whose election in 2023 gave liberals a majority on the court, did not participate. There was a request for her to recuse, but Protasiewicz said she didn’t participate because she wasn’t on the court when the case was originally brought.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, one of the most liberal members of Congress, said he was “very disappointed” with the decision not to take the case.

“When you have a purple state that’s 50-50, it’s hard to have six seats representing one party and two representing another, and think it’s anything that’s close to fair,” Pocan said in a text message. “I know people will be disappointed and wonder why nearly a year after the last Supreme Court election that more wasn’t done.”

Two of the court’s conservative members, Chief Justice Annette Ziegler and Justice Rebecca Bradley, wrote that although the case was rightfully rejected, “it likely won’t be long until the new majority flexes its political power again to advance a partisan agenda despite the damage inflicted on the independence and integrity of the court.”

Rick Esenberg, president of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which along with the GOP-controlled Legislature sought Protasiewicz’s recusal, praised the court’s action.

“This matter was settled two years ago and there is no need to redraw the congressional maps,” Esenberg said in a statement. “The request to redraw these maps was both procedurally improper and legally wrong, and we are glad the Court has declined the invitation to revisit this matter.”

The court faced a tight deadline to act in time for the November election. Wisconsin’s elections commission has said district boundaries must be set by mid-March to meet deadlines for elections officials and candidates. Candidates can start circulating nomination papers on April 15 for the Aug. 13 primary.

In the legislative maps ruling, the state Supreme Court said the earlier conservative-controlled court was wrong in 2021 to say that maps drawn that year should have as little change as possible from the maps that were in place at the time. The lawsuit argued that decision warranted replacing the congressional district maps that were drawn under the “least change” requirement.

Six of the state’s eight congressional seats are held by Republicans. In 2010, the year before Republicans redrew the maps, Democrats held five seats compared with three for Republicans.

Only two of the state’s current congressional districts are seen as competitive.

Western Wisconsin’s 3rd District is represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden, who won an open seat in 2022 after longtime Democratic Rep. Ron Kind retired.

And southeastern Wisconsin’s 1st District, held by Republican Rep. Bryan Steil since 2019, was made more competitive under the latest maps but still favors Republicans.

Both seats have been targeted by national Democrats.

The current congressional maps in Wisconsin were drawn by Evers and approved by the state Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court in March 2022 declined to block them from taking effect.

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