GOP Once Bypassed Governor on Redistricting
That was in 1960s and high court struck it down. Will we see repeat of this battle next year?
Actually, legislators tried to do this twice, according to a history of redistricting in Wisconsin compiled by the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB).
This was back in the 1960s, after voters in November 1960 elected a Democratic governor, Gaylord Nelson, and a Republican-controlled Legislature.
Sound familiar? It foreshadowed the Capitol today, where Democratic Tony Evers is governor and Republicans have solid majorities in both the Assembly and Senate.
According to the LRB, Republican leaders of the Legislature first tried to redraw legislative district lines by resolution during the 1961-62 session.
But it was the Legislature’s second attempt — in 1963 — that is most interesting. It came after the election of a new Democratic governor, John Reynolds, and Republicans keeping control of the Legislature.
In 1963, legislators and Reynolds agreed on new district lines for U.S. House members. Reynolds signed that bill on May 20, 1963.
But, on July 9, 1963, Reynolds vetoed the Legislature’s bill drawing new districts for members of the Assembly and Senate. After that veto, according to LRB:
“The Legislature again attempted to bypass the governor’s objections by adopting a joint resolution. On July 10, 1963, a day after the governor’s veto … the Senate Committee on Legislative Procedures introduced 1963 Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 74, relating to the apportionment of senate and assembly seats.”
Risser’s argument: The Legislature can’t replace the state law that drew the current legislative lines by passing a joint resolution. The Senate president, Lt. Gov. Jack Olson, a Republican dismissed Risser’s objection.
Two major changes have been made since then: The governor and lieutenant governor are now elected as a ticket, so they are both members of the same party. And the lieutenant governor no longer is the Senate president. Now, senators choose the Senate president; Risser, in 1975, became the first president elected that way.
Back to LRB’s narrative.
“Being unable to veto a joint resolution, Gov. Reynolds went to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, arguing, among other things, that the Legislature could not redraw legislative district boundaries without his approval.”
“On Feb. 28, 1964, the Court ruled in Reynolds’ favor. The court held that a redistricting plan could not become law without the governor’s concurrence or a legislative override of the governor’s veto and noted that ‘both the legislative and executive branches of our state government have long regarded legislative reapportionment as a matter of joint action between the Legislature and the governor.’
“The court also noted that, although Article IV, Section 3, of the Wisconsin Constitution does not expressly provide that the apportionment shall be ‘by law,’ the inconsistent use of the phrase ‘by law’ in the Constitution creates an ambiguity that the court will resolve by construing Article IV, Section 3, in the most-reasonable manner … to wit: To create and define the institutions whereby a representative democratic form of government may effectively function.”
Why the history lesson?
Because, since Evers took office in January 2019, Republican legislative leaders have successfully limited the powers of him and all future governors. Last week, for example, they got the state Supreme Court to establish the precedent that legislators — and not just a governor and attorney general — can defend new laws. And new legislative districts must be redrawn next year.
Should Republicans continue to hold power in both houses of the Legislature, which seems very likely, Republican leaders may try again, as they did in the 1960s, to pass redistricting through a joint resolution, and hope the Wisconsin Supreme Court will overrule the decision of the 1960s, and the long tradition in this state cited by that decision. Which is why this little history lesson is so relevant and resonant for today.
- Your Right to Know: Redistricting Shouldn’t Be Done In Secret - Matthew DeFour - Mar 2nd, 2021
- Redistricting conversation continues on virtual “On the Issues,” Feb. 11 - Marquette University - Feb 10th, 2021
- Op Ed: Redistricting Should Consider Native Americans - Tehassi Hill - Feb 9th, 2021
- Op Ed: Why the War on Masks? Gerrymandering - Mel Barnes - Feb 7th, 2021
- Op Ed: Correct a Cheating System With Fair Maps - State Sen. Jeff Smith - Feb 3rd, 2021
- Will State Supreme Court Draw New Legislative Boundaries? - Shawn Johnson - Jan 15th, 2021
- Data Wonk: Tales Told By The 2020 Election - Bruce Thompson - Dec 31st, 2020
- Court Watch: 2,000 Object to Redistricting Proposal - Gretchen Schuldt - Dec 13th, 2020
- Murphys Law: Beware the GOP Redistricting Proposal - Bruce Murphy - Dec 2nd, 2020
- Op Ed: Dear Wisconsin Supreme Court - Matt Rothschild - Nov 23rd, 2020
Read more about Gerrymandering of Legislative Districts here