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Wisconsin Supreme Court Hears Challenge to State Political Maps

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday in a legal challenge that could undo one of the nation’s most aggressive legislative district gerrymanders and open the door to a radical shift in political power in the state, where Republicans now have a strong hold on the state legislature.

The petition, filed in August on behalf of 19 Democratic voters in Wisconsin, asks the court to declare the state’s existing maps unconstitutional and order that new ones be drawn before the 2024 election.

The lawsuit differs from challenges to three-dimensional maps in some other states because it focuses on what may seem at first glance to be a neutral technical issue: a requirement that districts be compact and contiguous. Current maps include dozens of districts drawn in distorted shapes and divided into unconnected chunks, a practice that plaintiffs say violates the state Constitution.

The case also argues that the way the maps were recently updated violated the separation of powers clause of the state constitution.

In Wisconsin, a crucial presidential election state, Democrats see the case as a rare opportunity to redraw the state’s Assembly and Senate, which have been heavily biased against their candidates, and potentially demand new elections next year for each seat. both houses.

Hotly contested judicial elections in April tipped the scales in the state Supreme Court toward a 4-3 liberal majority, encouraging voting rights advocates to challenge the maps.

The new liberal on the Court, Justice Janet Protasiewicz, won her seat by a double-digit margin after campaigning largely on the issues of abortion and voting rights; she called the state’s current legislative maps “rigged.”

The court’s decision in October to hear the case challenging the maps came at a time when Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the State Assembly, was threatening to impeach Judge Protasiewicz. Despite complaints from conservatives about her comments during the election campaign, she refused to recuse herself.

Republicans now control a large majority of seats in both houses of the state Legislature, even though the electorate is roughly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats often win statewide elections; Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, won a second term in 2022.

The existing maps were initially created a decade ago under Republican Gov. Scott Walker, then adjusted after the 2020 census to give Republicans an even greater advantage.

The state Supreme Court is not expected to rule on the case immediately.

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