GOP Appeal in Wisconsin Redistricting Case Could Have Far-reaching Impact—If U.S. Supreme Court Takes It Up  

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This blog post continues the focus of the Law School’s Lubar Center on redistricting

A Republican appeal of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s legislative redistricting decision earlier this month could have national significance for the federal Voting Rights Act, according to a Marquette University law professor. To that extent, at least, others agree.

If the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of GOP state lawmakers, the federal justices could allow so-called “race-neutral” redistricting nationwide, says Marquette Professor Atiba Ellis, who has written about the landmark 1965 civil rights law. Combined with previous high court decisions reducing the strength of other parts of the Voting Rights Act, such a ruling would amount to “erasing the efforts of Reconstruction” and going back to a time before the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution extended voting rights to people of color, Ellis fears.

“That’s my worst-case scenario,” he says.

Not all agree, of course, and much is uncertain or debatable, even the timing: The U.S. Supreme Court might hold off on a decision until after the fall elections, allowing a map drawn by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and approved by the state supreme court to be used for those contests, says Robert Yablon, associate professor of law at the University of Wisconsin.

Or the justices might refuse to take up the appeal at all, says Mel Barnes, an attorney at Law Forward, the legal organization that is representing three voting rights groups in the case. Continue reading “GOP Appeal in Wisconsin Redistricting Case Could Have Far-reaching Impact—If U.S. Supreme Court Takes It Up  “

Republicans Could Get Last Word on Redistricting—as Democrats Did in 1983  

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You may have heard that the Wisconsin Supreme Court will be deciding legislative district lines that will stand for the next decade.

It might happen that way. But if Republicans win back the governor’s office and retain control of both houses of the Legislature this fall, they could redraw the map next year to favor their party even more than any of the GOP-leaning options the high court might choose.

That’s what Democrats did when they were in the same position 40 years earlier, although the 1983 Democratic effort differs significantly from the Republican-engineered 2011 redistricting plan that Democrats have denounced as an extreme partisan gerrymander.

A Supreme Court opinion in the current case will leave the door open for Republicans to redraw the map if they are in charge of both the legislative and executive branches. Continue reading “Republicans Could Get Last Word on Redistricting—as Democrats Did in 1983  “

Whose maps are least changed of all?   

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This blog post continues the focus of the Law School’s Lubar Center on redistricting

Change, like beauty, appears to be in the eye of the beholder.

After the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that new legislative and congressional district maps must change as little as legally possible from the current maps, observers saw it as a win for the Republicans and conservatives who sought that ruling. Democrats have condemned the maps drawn in 2011 as an extreme partisan gerrymander that has locked in GOP control of the Legislature for the past decade.

But while least-change maps are sure to be Republican-majority maps, they’re not necessarily going to be the same maps that the GOP-controlled Legislature approved last year, only to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. And the ruling hasn’t driven all the rival map-changers out of the courtroom.

Instead, Justice Rebecca Bradley’s majority opinion has prompted a legal debate over exactly what “least change” means—and a contest in which nearly all of the parties are competing to convince the court that their preferred maps would change less than those submitted by their opponents. Continue reading “Whose maps are least changed of all?   “

No Exit

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Prof. Rick Hasen of UCLA, an expert in election law, had an op-ed in Friday’s New York Times that argued that in the wake of the 2020 election and its aftermath, including the January 6th attack on Congress, “[w]e must not succumb to despair on indifference. It won’t be easy, but there is a path forward if we begin acting now, together, to shore up our fragile election ecosystem.”

Unfortunately, I disagree. The fact that there is no path forward unless X, Y, and Z happen does not mean that X, Y, and Z will happen. It could well be that there is no path forward. And no path is likely to be available until a significant portion of the American public fundamentally change their present views about their society and their fellow citizens. Continue reading “No Exit”

Black, Brown, and White: Differing Views on Redistricting Involve More than Red and Blue

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This blog post continues the focus of the Law School’s Lubar Center on redistricting

More than two colors matter in redrawing district maps.

In Wisconsin, public and media attention has focused largely on how much red and blue show up in each proposed legislative or congressional map, reflecting the partisan balance of power between Republicans and Democrats.

But redistricting is also a portrait in black, brown, and white, with district lines under scrutiny for how they affect the rights of Black and Hispanic voters to choose their preferred representatives. And as state and local redistricting debates show, federal court decisions have left a lot of gray areas in interpreting those legal rights. Continue reading “Black, Brown, and White: Differing Views on Redistricting Involve More than Red and Blue”

Combating Partisan Gerrymandering Not a Focus for Wisconsin’s High Court 

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This blog post continues the focus of the Law School’s Lubar Center on redistricting

The rules of the game are set. Now the scoring begins.

In a 4-3 decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court recently laid down two key guidelines that are already having a major impact on the outcome of the contest over redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional maps.

The high court’s Nov. 30 opinion dealt a one-two punch to gerrymandering opponents. In drawing new district lines, justices said they would not consider what impact those lines would have on the balance of power between the two major political parties. They also said they would make as few changes as possible to the current maps — maps that have given Republicans an almost-unbreakable hold on the state Legislature for the past decade. Continue reading “Combating Partisan Gerrymandering Not a Focus for Wisconsin’s High Court “

Elections Administrator Stands Firm: “I know I Have the Facts Behind Me”

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Meagan Wolfe has been under a lot of pressure since the 2020 presidential election in Wisconsin. As the administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, she has been a prime target of criticism from those who think there were irregularities and misconduct behind Democrat Joe Biden’s narrow win over Republican Donald Trump. There have been calls from some Republicans for Wolfe to be fired, along with attacks on her integrity and competence.

But in an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program on Dec. 3, 2021, Wolfe firmly defended the work of election officials across Wisconsin and showed no sign of backing down from her position that the election was run well and by the rules.

“It’s always difficult when your integrity is questioned, but I know I have the facts behind me,” Wolfe told Gousha, Marquette Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy. “I stand behind the great work that I know I did, that I know my team did, that I know local elections officials did.” Continue reading “Elections Administrator Stands Firm: “I know I Have the Facts Behind Me””

Under Pressure, Independent Panels Produce Mixed Results in Local Redistricting

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This blog post continues the focus of the Law School’s Lubar Center on redistricting.

Hurtling toward a Nov. 23 deadline to redraw their district lines, Wisconsin’s largest city and county left no room for error.

The Milwaukee County Board voted Nov. 22 to finalize a new supervisory district map, while the Milwaukee Common Council will vote Nov. 23 on new aldermanic districts.

By contrast, the Dane County Board crossed the finish line with a few days to spare, adopting a final supervisory map for the evening of Nov. 18. And Madison’s Common Council completed its work on both aldermanic districts and voting wards on Nov. 2, well ahead of deadline.

The contrasting timetables reflect the contrasting results of the Badger State’s first experiments with using independent advisory panels to help draw local district lines. Those panels succeeded in Dane County and the Racine Unified School District, but their work ended in rejection and recriminations in Milwaukee and Brown counties. Continue reading “Under Pressure, Independent Panels Produce Mixed Results in Local Redistricting”

Wisconsin redistricting panel’s maps could pit dozens of incumbents against each other

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This blog post continues the focus of the Law School’s Lubar Center on redistricting.

Nearly half of Wisconsin Assembly members and more than one-third of state senators — including the top Republican leaders in both chambers — would have to run against fellow incumbents if they seek re-election from the districts where they now live, under new maps proposed by an advisory commission.

The People’s Maps Commission plan also would place four of the state’s eight U.S. House members in the same districts as their colleagues, according to an analysis by John D. Johnson, research fellow in the Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education at Marquette Law School.

By contrast, maps proposed by the Legislature’s GOP leadership and by the conservative organization Common Sense Wisconsin would group far fewer incumbents together, Johnson’s analysis shows. Continue reading “Wisconsin redistricting panel’s maps could pit dozens of incumbents against each other”

Stability or “gerrylaundering”? Attorneys clash over using current maps as redistricting baseline

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This blog post continues the focus of the Law School’s Lubar Center on redistricting.

In redrawing Wisconsin’s legislative and congressional district lines, politicians and judges face a question that often confronts authors and filmmakers: Whether to produce a sequel or create an entirely new work.

After panning the Republican-drawn 2011 maps as one of the nation’s most extreme partisan gerrymanders, Democrats and progressives find the idea of a sequel as horrifying as another installment of a Halloween slasher-movie franchise. They say it’s time for fresh new districts.

Republicans and conservatives, meanwhile, find comfort in continuing a familiar story — and, not so coincidentally, bringing back almost all of the same characters from previous episodes. They say stability is a virtue in redistricting.

Both sides argue their cases in briefs filed with the Wisconsin Supreme Court, after a legislative debate over a non-binding joint resolution laying out the GOP majority’s favored redistricting principles. The current phase of litigation seeks to define how the justices would redraw the maps if lawmakers can’t reach agreement with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers (and if the task doesn’t wind up in the hands of a three-judge federal court).

Robert Yablon has coined a term for the approach that Wisconsin Republicans advocate: “Gerrylaundering.” That’s also the title of a forthcoming paper for the New York University Law Review, in which Yablon, a University of Wisconsin Law School associate professor, describes how lawmakers try to lock in a prior gerrymander by perfunctorily cleaning up the old maps before clothing the state in them for another decade. Continue reading “Stability or “gerrylaundering”? Attorneys clash over using current maps as redistricting baseline”

Scholars advocate groundbreaking use of technology in Wisconsin redistricting cases

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This blog post continues the focus of the Law School’s Lubar Center on redistricting.

Wisconsin could be one of the first states in the nation to draw legislative and congressional maps with powerful computer technology originally developed to expose gerrymandering, under an approach being advocated in state and federal courts.

Two overlapping groups of number-crunchers, mostly professors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Marquette University, are urging judges to let them use the technology to create districts that would improve representation for people of color.

One group, calling itself the Citizen Mathematicians and Scientists, has been admitted as intervenors in the redistricting case before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The other group, dubbed the Citizen Data Scientists, has been denied intervenor status in related litigation before a three-judge federal panel, but will be allowed to file friend-of-the-court briefs in that case.

In both cases, the groups’ members represent themselves as nonpartisan researchers. But two of them, and several of their attorneys, have previous ties to Democratic and progressive interests in high-profile litigation around redistricting and other political disputes.

The technology that they are advocating uses high-speed computers to create an “ensemble” of hundreds or even thousands of possible maps for comparative analysis. Its evolutionary path starts with former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and winds through Wisconsin. Continue reading “Scholars advocate groundbreaking use of technology in Wisconsin redistricting cases”

On the Issues: Some Personal Respect Amid Big Differences Over Redistricting

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On one thing, Jay Heck and Joe Handrick agreed: They each respect the other for doing what each thinks is best for Wisconsin voters.

But during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program, posted on Marquette Law School’s web site on Tuesday (Oct. 26, 2021), the two disagreed on just about everything that involved policies and practices involving voters. That included differences on a list of issues related to elections, especially the hot current disputes over how to draw new boundaries for political districts.

Heck has led Common Cause Wisconsin, a non-profit organization based in Madison, for more than 20 years. Handrick, a former Republican legislator from northern Wisconsin, was recently named to head Common Sense Wisconsin, also a non-profit organization.

Their differences can be summarized by noting that Handrick helped draw up the Republican-backed 2011 map of legislative districts in Wisconsin and Heck called that map one of the five most partisan gerrymanders in the last 50 years of American politics.

Or it can be shown in the way Heck spoke positively of the work of a citizen’s commission, appointed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, which recently proposed “nonpartisan” maps for legislative districts for the next decade, while Handrick sharply criticized that commission’s proposal and spoke positively of maps proposed by Republicans in the state legislature. Continue reading “On the Issues: Some Personal Respect Amid Big Differences Over Redistricting”

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