Wisconsin's Supreme Court declines to reopen case about congressional redistricting

 March 3, 2024

The Wisconsin Supreme Court's recent decision to reject a request from a group of voters seeking to reopen previous litigation concerning the state’s congressional map solidifies the status quo for the existing districts.

This denial, handed down by the court, dashes hopes of implementing new districts aligning with the state’s redistricting criteria before the 2024 elections.

The latest

Liberal Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz refrained from participating in the consideration of the voters’ request, citing her absence during the court's 2022 ruling on the state’s congressional map.

Protasiewicz's decision, explained in a separate order addressing the Wisconsin Legislature’s motion to recuse, underscores her commitment to procedural integrity.

The pivotal 2022 Wisconsin Supreme Court rulings, emanating from the Johnson v. Wisconsin Elections Commission case, initially favored the Republican-controlled Legislature's proposed congressional map over the governor’s.

The consequences

This decision, rooted in the "least change principle," aimed to minimize alterations to existing legislative and congressional maps.

A subsequent ruling in December 2023, arising from a separate case challenging the state’s legislative maps, witnessed the court's liberal majority overturn the "least change approach," deeming the current legislative maps incompatible with the state constitution's requirement for contiguous districts.

In the wake of the December 2023 Clarke decision, Wisconsin voters pivoted to a fresh avenue by proposing newly aligned congressional districts consistent with the court's updated redistricting criteria.

The 2024 election impact

Their January 2024 motion spotlighted the transformative effect of the Clarke ruling, which upended previous decisions in the Johnson case, thus necessitating a reassessment of the state's redistricting landscape.

Beyond the constitutional ramifications, the voters underscored the inequities within the current congressional map, contending it unfairly favors Republicans and infringes upon the principle of separation of powers.

Despite securing only 50% of the statewide vote, Republicans occupy 75% of Wisconsin's congressional seats, a statistical anomaly that the petitioners argue warrants scrutiny and rectification.

With the court's recent order, Wisconsin’s existing congressional districts remain unaltered. However, the ruling leaves the door ajar for future litigation challenging the state’s congressional districts in elections beyond 2024. The decision marks a temporary halt in the battle over redistricting but signals the potential for continued legal wrangling over the state's electoral boundaries.

As Wisconsin grapples with the fallout from the court's decision, the broader implications resonate beyond state lines. The ruling underscores the delicate balance between legal precedent, political power dynamics, and the pursuit of electoral fairness, issues that reverberate across the American political landscape.

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