The Wisconsin Supreme Court, bolstered by its new liberal majority, recently spent three hours hearing arguments on the constitutionality of the state's legislative districts. The challenge, initiated by Law Forward, a liberal-leaning law firm, could prompt a significant redrawing of district lines, potentially influencing the balance of power ahead of the 2024 elections.
Law Forward brought the case directly to the state's highest court in August, bypassing lower courts in a rapid attempt to address alleged constitutional violations in the legislative districts. The challenge seeks to declare the current districts unconstitutional, asserting they were drawn with partisan intent, and demands the drafting of new maps by mid-March 2024.
The petitioners argue that the existing maps violate free speech guarantees, treat voters unequally based on political views, and contravene the Wisconsin constitution's promise of a free government. The maps in question heavily favor Republicans, with 63 of the 99 Assembly seats and 23 of the 33 Senate seats leaning GOP, according to a 2021 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis.
Conservative justices on the court, including Justice Rebecca Bradley, have expressed skepticism, questioning why the court should reconsider the issue just two years after a related case. Bradley also highlighted that the challenge's timing coincides with the court's changed composition, referring to the election of liberal Justice Janet Protasiewicz.
The dispute underscores ongoing tensions over redistricting and gerrymandering, with critics accusing the state Supreme Court of acting as a "super-legislature." The challenge also touches on broader concerns about the impartiality and political leanings of the judiciary, with implications for the state's political landscape.
Should the plaintiffs succeed, the lawsuit could result in new legislative maps and potentially force senators named in the suit to run in new districts in a special 2024 election. However, the court's conservatives, and attorneys for Republican senators, have criticized the challenge as a "collateral attack" on a previous ruling and an attempt to exercise "raw political power."
The justices probed various aspects of the case, including criteria for redrawing maps and who should advise on redistricting if the current districts are found unconstitutional. Liberal Justice Ann Walsh Bradley emphasized avoiding backdoor arguments on partisan gerrymandering.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission has indicated that new maps must be established by March 15, 2024, for the next year's elections, adding urgency to the court's deliberations.
As the Wisconsin Supreme Court deliberates this high-stakes redistricting challenge, the outcome could have significant implications for the state's legislative balance and reflect broader national debates over electoral fairness and judicial impartiality.