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Evers vetoes Republican-drawn Wisconsin voting maps

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Evers veto redistricting

Gov. Tony Evers vetoes legislative and congressional redistricting plans approved by the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Legislature in a video message released on Nov. 18.

Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday fulfilled a weeks-long pledge and vetoed legislative and congressional redistricting plans approved last week by the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Legislature.

The bills, which were passed along party lines seven days ago, were delivered to the governor on Tuesday. 

In a video veto message released Thursday, the governor called the maps “gerrymandering 2.0.”

“Elected officials shouldn’t be able to depend on the comfort of their seats instead of the quality of their work,” Evers said. “And the gerrymandered maps Republicans passed a decade ago have enabled legislators to safely ignore the people who elected them.”

“And these maps here are more of the same,” he said.

Evers’ veto tees up either the state Supreme Court or a federal three-judge panel to redraw legislative and congressional lines in Wisconsin. At least one lawsuit is already underway in both courts.

The state’s high court has “first dibs on drawing the lines,” University of Wisconsin-Madison law professor Rob Yablon told the Cap Times. The state’s high court agreed in September to hear a case about redistricting filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a conservative law firm.

The state Supreme Court's decision to take the case is uncommon. Historically, redistricting lawsuits in Wisconsin have been settled by a federal court. The lawsuit asks the court to throw out the state’s current legislative districts and, if necessary, redraw the maps itself. With Evers’ veto of the Legislature’s approved plans, it’s now very likely a court will be needed to redraw the maps.

The lawsuit, filed after the release of decennial U.S. census data, claims that the state’s current legislative maps are unconstitutional in light of shifts in Wisconsin’s population. In a 19-page order accepting the original action in September, the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative justices said they are willing to hear the case because this “court has long deemed redistricting challenges a proper subject for the court's exercise of its original jurisdiction.”

The court’s three liberal justices dissented on the decision. Writing on behalf of her two colleagues, Justice Rebecca Dallet proclaimed that “now is not the time and this petition is not the way.”

She also made the claim that redistricting fights should be handled by federal courts — as they have been over the last 40 years.

“The majority’s order charts no course whatsoever,” Dallet wrote. “It drops the court into the redistricting wilderness without even a compass. The order sets forth no plan for how seven Justices with no experience in drawing district maps should go about this Herculean task while simultaneously attending to the rest of the court’s docket.

“Although I trust my colleagues as jurists, I do not share their confidence that we can simultaneously be legislators, cartographers and mathematicians,” she concluded at the time.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court said Wednesday that proposed maps should be submitted to the court next month. If necessary, a hearing on the case will be held in January.

All the while, there are two, consolidated lawsuits in front of a federal court. Those lawsuits, which are now being heard together, were filed by two liberal legal groups: Democracy Docket and Law Forward.

Similar to the lawsuit filed by WILL, the liberal legal groups are asking the federal court to reapportion Wisconsin given shifts in population.

The federal court — a panel consisting of three federal judges procured by 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Diane Sykes — includes two judges nominated by former President Barack Obama and another tapped by former President Donald Trump.

However, the federal judges have put the lawsuit on hold. In October, the jurists decided to take a pause to allow the Wisconsin Supreme Court to first consider the case. Regardless of what happens in the state’s high court, the federal judges wrote in their order last month, they are still planning on holding a trial on the matter in January, despite the wishes of Republican lawmakers. The goal of the panel is to complete the trial by Jan. 28, 2022, so, if necessary, it can draw the maps by March 1.

On Wednesday, the federal court extended the stay until Dec. 6. At that point, the court said, it “will reevaluate whether it is necessary to open expert discovery to prepare for the possibility of resolution of these cases in federal court.” 

Passed maps favor Republicans

The maps approved by the Legislature would maintain GOP dominance over the legislative branch, according to several analyses of the proposed districts. 

A memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau, for example, said the average core retention rate is 84.16% for Assembly districts and 92.21% for Senate districts. Under the current maps, GOP lawmakers dominate in legislative races, with just four of the Legislature's 132 districts receiving a “toss-up” rating from the Cap Times Partisan Voter Index.

An analysis from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project found that the passed Assembly, state Senate and congressional districts all create a “significant Republican advantage.”

The project, which does “nonpartisan analysis to understand and eliminate partisan gerrymandering at a state-by-state level,” gave all three maps an overall “F” grade.

A separate analysis of the passed maps completed by the Campaign Legal Center found that Republicans would be expected to win 14.8% extra Senate seats in a “hypothetical, perfectly tied election,” and 12% extra Assembly seats in the same scenario. The CLC analysis predicts that, if 48% of statewide votes went to Democrats and 52% to Republicans, Democrats would win 30% of Senate seats and 34% of Assembly seats.

A FiveThirtyEight analysis of the approved congressional districts found that two of the eight districts would be Democratic-leaning, while the remaining six would be Republican-leaning. Under the plan, according to the analysis, none of the eight districts would have close congressional races.

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