MADISON – Now that Gov. Tony Evers has vetoed election maps drawn by legislative Republicans, the seven members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in the coming months will likely decide who represents voters in Congress and the state Legislature.
Courts typically wind up involved in how election maps are drawn because the stakes are so high. One political party is likely to come out ahead after the court acts.
Here’s a look at what redistricting is, why it matters, how the process got to this stage and what’s next.
What is redistricting?
States need to draw new lines after each census to make sure districts have equal populations. That way all voters’ ballots have the same weight in races for Congress and the Legislature.
Where the lines go has profound effects on who gets elected for a decade. Districts can be drawn in ways that give one political party huge advantages, so who decides the maps matters a great deal.
In Wisconsin, the maps are supposed to be decided the same way as other legislation — by winning the approval of the Assembly, the Senate and the governor.
Ten years ago, Republicans controlled all of state government and drew maps in their favor.
That was unusual. Typically, control of state government is split and Republicans and Democrats fail to reach an agreement on the maps. Once they reach an impasse, courts decide where to draw the lines.
That’s what’s happening now. Republican lawmakers approved maps that favor their party last week and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed them on Thursday.
Next stop: Wisconsin Supreme Court
Lawsuits were filed even before the Republicans introduced their maps.
Liberals, conservatives and independent groups told the courts they needed to prepare to draw the maps because the politicians would never reach an agreement.
Democrats hoped to have the matter decided by a panel of federal judges, while Republicans wanted it taken up by the state Supreme Court.
The federal judges said they would let the state court take up the issue first. Once the state court acts, the federal judges will decide whether to get involved in the matter or let the state court’s work stand.
It’s unusual for the state Supreme Court to handle redistricting cases.
State and federal courts both have the ability to handle redistricting cases, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court has typically opted out of taking them up. The state Supreme Court last dealt with the issue in the 1960s. In the decades since then, the federal courts have instead handled redistricting fights.
What happens next?
The state Supreme Court has been taking briefings on the case for weeks and recently spelled out its schedule.
The justices said they would issue an initial ruling around Nov. 30 that will explain what factors they will use to draw maps — including whether they will take into account partisanship.
The justices will also decide in that initial decision whether to minimize the changes it makes to the maps that were drawn a decade ago.
Republicans are arguing for the justices to take that approach, which would lock in the advantages they have had for years. Democrats and independents say the justices should take a broader approach because the existing maps so heavily favor one party.
Those involved in the case have until Dec. 15 to submit proposed maps to the court.
The justices have left open the possibility of holding a hearing — possibly one that lasts multiple days — starting around Jan. 18. They would likely render a decision by spring.
What maps will be considered?
Republicans and their supporters are likely to rally behind the maps that Evers vetoed.
Democrats are split on what to do. Evers appointed a commission last year to come up with maps and he has said he will back those maps in court. The commission’s maps have a Republican advantage, but one that is much smaller than the one proposed by Republican lawmakers.
Some Democratic lawmakers oppose the commission’s maps because they would reduce the number of districts with majorities of Black and Hispanic voters. About half the Democrats in the Assembly — along with all the Republicans — voted against the commission’s maps last week.
Senate Democrats have drawn a map that favors their party. They could offer the court that map or another one like it. Liberal and independent groups that are involved in the case also will propose maps.
The justices could choose a set of maps submitted to them or draw their own.
A majority of the justices — four out of seven — were elected with support from Republicans. One of them, Justice Brian Hagedorn, at times has sided with the court’s liberals, and another, Justice Patience Roggensack, has expressed skepticism about how involved the Supreme Court should be in redistricting at all.
What we’ve reported
Contact Patrick Marley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin redistricting: What’s next now that Evers vetoed GOP maps