Wisconsin Supreme Court justices enter deliberation mode after hearing redistricting case
Wisconsin Supreme Court justices will now be trying to digest the legislative redistricting case they heard on Tuesday and attempting to issue a ruling on what may be a sped-up timetable.
Plenty of people will be watching.
A group of citizens known as The Fair Maps Coalition has been critical of the current legislative district lines and contends the maps have helped Republicans in this otherwise divided, purple state roll up big margins in the State Senate and Assembly. The coalition rallied downtown Milwaukee shortly after oral arguments in the Democrats' redistricting lawsuit ended at the State Supreme Court in Madison.
Gregory Lewis of Souls to the Polls and Pastors United helped lead the local rally. He has a message for the seven justices as they now deliberate the case.
"Just, be fair. Be fair. Follow the Constitution. Make sure, you know, common folk, and common people and common sense takes a forefront in all of this," Lewis tells WUWM.
It's hard to say which way the state justices will go.
Well, not all of them. It seems pretty clear that Rebecca Bradley, first appointed to the high court by Republican Gov. Scott Walker isn't pleased to be considering redistricting again, less than two years after the state court, then controlled by Bradley and three other conservatives, accepted GOP-drawn maps to settle a dispute with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
Tuesday, Bradley bluntly asked a lawyer for 19 Democratic plaintiffs if the only reason Democrats are bringing the case now is the August swearing-in of former Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz, who has tipped control of the high court to four liberal-leaning justices.
"Everybody knows the reason we're here is because there was a change in the membership of the court. You would not have brought this action, right if the newest justice had lost her election," Bradley said with irritation in her voice.
She went on to note that while campaigning, Protasiewicz had called the maps "rigged."
Bradley eventually allowed plaintiffs attorney Mark Gaber to reply: "No, your honor. I don't think anyone said this case would not be brought, which I think is the premise of your question."
Gaber and other lawyers for Democrats went on to argue that the current maps violate the State Constitution because dozens of legislative districts are not contiguous. They have little islands or detached areas that Democrats say make it harder for voters to unite behind common interests. Republican lawyers argue mapmakers have long been allowed to create the islands to keep townships or other communities in the same district.
The arguments also focused on whether the state court violated the separation of powers when it approved the maps backed by GOP legislators last year.
It appears some of the more liberal justices are already thinking about new maps. Rebecca Dallet, another former Milwaukee County judge, asked Gaber about mapmaking experts.
"If we are to find these maps unconstitutional, and we were to turn to someone to help draw the maps, do you have name of people you would suggest?" Dallet said.
Justices also asked about experts who would evaluate maps that others would draw. But conservative attorney Rick Esenberg of Milwaukee urged the court to maybe only adjust the voter islands issue and not to support new maps statewide before the next census.
"So that, in this important process of electing representatives to our legislature, there is some finality, and people can rely on the fact that districts look like they do. They can make decisions on where to allocate resources. They can make decisions about where to run candidates, voters can form relationships with their legislators," Esenberg said.
That led Dallet to ask: "So, the constitution takes a back seat to what you just described?"
Esenberg replied: "The Constitution doesn't take a back seat because the Constitution also includes these notions of finality."
If the state justices do toss the current maps, the parties will have to move fairly quickly in order to get new maps ready by spring, ahead of what may be even more contentious, but perhaps also more competitive elections in 2024.
Editor’s note: A portion of the audio is from WisconsinEye.