Judges Dismiss Wisconsin Redistricting Case

Jun 27, 2019

Updated on July 3 at 10:48 a.m. CT

A three-judge panel has dismissed a federal lawsuit challenging Republican-drawn legislative boundaries in the wake of a key U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 27 that federal courts have no place in policing political district boundaries.

READ: Supreme Court Rules Partisan Gerrymandering Is Beyond The Reach Of Federal Courts

Democratic voters filed a federal lawsuit in Madison in 2015 alleging boundaries Republicans drew in 2011 unfairly diluted Democrats' voting power. In 2016, a panel of judges concluded that Wisconsin’s map overwhelming favored Republicans that the constitutional rights of Democrats were violated.

The Wisconsin redistricting case was before the court last year before justices sent it back to a lower court over an issue about who could bring the case. A trial is set for July.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that partisan gerrymandering claims don't belong in federal court. The decision came as the court rejected challenges to Republican-drawn congressional districts in North Carolina and a Democratic district in Maryland.

Barry Burden, who teaches political science at UW-Madison, says the Supreme Court "really closed the door, saying it doesn't intend to be involved in any of these cases ever again."

Burden says according to the majority opinion, justices believe partisan gerrymandering is being resolved on a state-by-state basis, but in Wisconsin that is not happening.

"They even noted that in some states voters had put issues on the ballot and had voted to create a commission or some other process for drawing maps and they thought that was a better remedy than federal courts getting involved," Burden says.

Gov. Tony Evers released a statement saying the ruling "is devastating for our democracy, our system of government, the right to participate in the democratic process, and the notion that people should come before politics. Partisan gerrymandering is exactly how we end up with a majority party in power that doesn’t care that 70% of our state supports things like Medicaid expansion."

Burden says the old maps will now be in place for the 2020 election. And, with it also being a census year with new maps to be drawn, he expects more lawsuits in Wisconsin.

"I think we should expect a stalemate after the 2020 census data come in," Burden says.

Burden says it's unlikely that Democratic Evers and the GOP Legislature will be able to agree on what maps should look like.

Evers says people should be able to choose their representatives.

“If the Supreme Court ... ignores its duty to remedy the widespread constitutional harms across our country, then in Wisconsin we will do everything we can to ensure elections in our state are fair, accessible, and free. That includes fighting for nonpartisan redistricting and vetoing gerrymandered maps that arrive on my desk," he said in a statement.