Democrats Blast Wisconsin Supreme Court Redistricting Decision

  • 4-3 ruling likely means GOP will keep edge in delegation
  • Eric Holder called the move “extremely disappointing”

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to adopt a minimal approach to redrawing the state’s political districts is a win for Republicans and a setback for Democrats, who could lose one of their three current congressional seats in the state next year as the party labors to hold its slim House majority.

Democrats are seeking larger-scale changes to the existing eight districts, which they say heavily favor Republicans in what’s a politically competitive state. Joe Biden narrowly defeated Donald Trump there in the 2020 election, four years after Trump’s slim victory.

But the Wisconsin court, in a 4-3 decision Tuesday, said it would tweak maps drawn by Wisconsin Republicans in 2011 “only to remedy malapportionment produced by population shifts made apparent by the decennial census.” That’s likely to cement the GOP’s hold on the delegation for the next decade and aid its efforts to net five seats nationwide to win the House.

The Wisconsin decision underscores the importance of state courts in determining whether voting maps are too partisan. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that federal courts have no constitutional authority to adjudicate claims of political gerrymandering.

Eric Holder, a former U.S. Attorney General who leads the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, called the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision “extremely disappointing” and said he wanted to see what lines are ultimately implemented. “We’ll see what the court actually does,” he said.

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Photographer: Morry Gash/AP Photo/Bloomberg
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) criticized the state supreme court’s decision to minimally alter congressional district lines.

A judicially-imposed congressional redistricting is needed after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers (D) last month vetoed Republican-drawn lines that would give the GOP the advantage in six of eight districts. That would include holding an edge in the western 3rd District, which will be even more challenging for Democrats to hold with Rep. Ron Kind (D) retiring.

Before drawing any lines, the court said it wouldn’t weigh alleged gerrymandering. “Claims of political unfairness in the maps present political questions, not legal ones,” wrote Justice Rebecca Grassl Bradley, who was appointed by Republican Scott Walker when he was governor.

The approach hurts Democrats, who are hamstrung by their inefficient clustering in Madison and Milwaukee and by their recent poor performances in areas of rural western and northern Wisconsin, where Democratic politicians such as former Rep. Dave Obey once thrived.

Party leaders are crying foul.

“Republicans are destroying democracy and using their friends on the partisan courts to fulfill their mission to impose minority rule on the majority,” Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) said in a statement to Bloomberg Government. “Republican justices are willing accomplices in the efforts of Republican state legislators.”

In the 2020 election, Biden won 69% of the vote in the Madison-area 2nd District of Rep. Mark Pocan and 76% in Moore’s Milwaukee-based 4th District, while Trump won between 54% and 59% in all five Wisconsin districts now held by Republicans.

Those vote percentages would remain about the same in the Republican map vetoed by Evers, though Trump’s vote share in Kind’s district would inch up to 52.7% from 51.5%—underscoring the importance Republicans have placed on winning a seat key to their quest for a House majority. Derrick Van Orden (R), whom Kind defeated 51%-49%, is running again.

Emily Wilkins in Washington also contributed to this story.

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at ggiroux@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bloombergindustry.com; Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com

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