The U.S. Supreme Court approved an emergency application from Wisconsin Republicans to block the implementation of state legislative district maps approved by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
In blocking the new state Assembly and state Senate maps, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed with the Republican complaint that the addition of a seventh Black-majority Assembly district in Milwaukee, the state’s largest city, violates the Voting Rights Act.
Wisconsin Republicans argued that the Assembly map selected by the Wisconsin Supreme Court violates the Voting Rights Act by reducing the Black vote share in six Black-majority districts in Milwaukee in order to create a seventh such district.
This is a rather disingenuous argument since Republicans actually wanted the court to impose a map that would reduce the total number of Black-majority Assembly seats from six to five.
The Supreme Court agreed in an unsigned opinion that the state court had adopted a district map that improperly used race as criteria in drawing the district lines. It remanded the case back to the Wisconsin Supreme Court to choose another map or have the map’s authors better explain why the current map draws an additional Black-majority district.
“This is unprecedented interference with our state’s districts after elections have already begun in Wisconsin,” said Mel Barnes, staff counsel for Law Forward, a Wisconsin legal nonprofit that argued in court on behalf of the map chosen by the state Supreme Court.
The Wisconsin Board of Elections has already begun to send out information about the district maps to local election officials.
The Supreme Court overturned Wisconsin’s state legislative maps for drawing too many Black-majority seats.
Drew Angerer via Getty Images
In numerous recent decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court has said it could not allow new election changes to go into effect too close to an election for fear of confusing voters or disrupting the election process. But the court did that here, despite worries from Wisconsin’s top election officials that striking down the current maps would be disruptive.
Wisconsin Republicans initially filed suit in state courts to resolve a deadlock on the legislative maps. The state’s GOP-dominated legislature had first passed a map in 2021 that built on the majorities Republicans established in the 2011 redistricting process. Those 10-year-old maps created one of the most extreme pro-GOP gerrymanders in the country. But Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed the new GOP map.
Republicans in the state legislature then went to state court to resolve the dispute, despite every previous redistricting deadlock having been resolved in federal courts. The Wisconsin Supreme Court said it would review the new maps and select whatever created the “least change” from the 2011 maps.
The state court ultimately selected a map that Evers had submitted because it moved far fewer voters than the Republican proposal. Evers’ map is slightly more favorable to Democrats than the 2011 GOP gerrymander.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court did not directly consider whether the maps met necessary criteria under the Voting Rights Act. Instead, the court suggested that any VRA-related complaint could be filed in court and proceed under the normal process.
Now, the U.S. Supreme Court says that state courts must consider all VRA factors ahead of selecting maps under emergency procedures, lest the high court strike them down. The decision came without argument and without any new facts regarding whether a new Black majority legislative district was warranted.
By tossing out Wisconsin’s maps on an emergency application without argument, the court’s majority opinion marks an “unprecedented” action, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in a dissent joined by Justice Elena Kagan.
“This Court’s intervention today is not only extraordinary but also unnecessary,” Sotomayor wrote. “The Wisconsin Supreme Court rightly preserved the possibility that an appropriate plaintiff could bring an equal protection or VRA challenge in the proper forum. I would allow that process to unfold, rather than further complicating these proceedings with legal confusion through a summary reversal.”
The high court rejected a separate emergency application to reverse the state’s congressional map.