Bruce Murphy
Murphys Law

Beware the GOP Redistricting Proposal

Republicans want 10 more years of gerrymandering. To do this they would hand all power to state Supreme Court.

By - Dec 2nd, 2020 05:39 pm
Wisconsin Supreme Court. Photo by Dave Reid.

Wisconsin Supreme Court. Photo by Dave Reid.

Republicans who control the Legislature would love to extend their gerrymandering of the state for another decade. It has guaranteed they get 60% of the legislative seats if they get only 50% of the statewide vote, and assured them control of legislative and congressional districts even when they fall short of a majority. But standing in their way is Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who under the state constitution has the power to veto any redistricting plan he deems unfair.

So Republicans have come up with a plan to do an end round not only around the governor, but just about anyone else in the state who opposes gerrymandering. A petition, filed by former Assembly Speaker and longtime Republican strategist Scott Jensen, and the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, seeks to radically revamp the way redistricting is handled in Wisconsin.

The petition would allow redistricting disputes to go directly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, bypassing federal courts and state lower courts and their fact-finding roles, while speeding up the process and reducing the time for discussion, media attention and citizen input  To assure the latter doesn’t happen, the petition would give the right to participate only to the politicians — the Senate, Assembly, governor, and political parties. Other interested organizations and individuals would require specific permission from the Supreme Court to have any say.

Given that 55 of 72 counties in Wisconsin have passed resolutions supporting fair maps and rejecting gerrymandering, and given polls showing an overwhelming majority of voters, including 59% of Republicans, support non-partisan redistricting, the idea of freezing out the public is particularly suspect.

But perhaps the most aggressive aspect of the proposal would in essence allow the Supreme Court to do the redistricting. The proposal “ultimately allows the Court to develop its own redistricting proposal, establish many of the rules for any public comment on the proposal, and approve the proposal,” as comments on it by the non-profit Wisconsin Justice Initiative (WJI) noted. “The petition leaves it unclear whether non-governmental interested groups or individuals would be allowed to file formal objections to any Court map or have any say on it at all.”

The petition drew opposition from 40 organizations and individuals who submitted comments on the proposal, as WJI executive director Gretchen Schuldt has reported.

There was just two comments favoring the proposal, both by politicians.: One was by attorney Misha Tseytlin on behalf of Republican U.S. Representatives Glenn Grothman, Mike Gallagher, Bryan Steil, and Tom Tiffany and Rep.-elect Scott Fitzgerald. The other was by attorney Kevin M. St. John, on behalf of Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Fitzgerald, in his role as State Senate majority leader.

They argue the proposal protects the constitutionally delegated roles of the Legislature and the state to handle redistricting and minimizes the potential for “federal court intrusion.” But in the past when there has been any disagreement between the governor and two houses of the Legislature the issue was decided by a federal court.

The Supreme Court was asked to consider a similar petition in 2019 and a majority of justices rejected it, as the ACLU of Wisconsin noted in its comments on the proposal.  “As Justice (David) Prosser stated during the 2009 rulemaking process, the Court taking original jurisdiction in redistricting cases would be a ‘fundamental institutional mistake for this Court’ as it would place the Court at the center of the political arena.”

“A traditional trial and appeals process to resolve redistricting challenges allows Wisconsin voters and groups to follow cases throughout the process and, if motivated and possible, get involved,” the ACLU noted. “Vesting judicial resolution in a single court — the Wisconsin Supreme Court — would diminish the ability to follow cases and participate in them… If accepted, the proposed rule will undermine the public’s trust in the Court and in the redistricting process.”

Handing power over redistricting to the state Supreme Court “grossly violates the separation of powers with our constitutional framework,” the League of Women Voters commented.

The proposal tries to remove the governor from the redistricting process, the Campaign Legal Center commented, and “mistakenly suggests that the legislature can adopt new districts without presenting those districts to the governor for approval or veto.”

The idea behind gerrymandering, it has been said, is to have politicians pick their voters rather than voters picking their political representatives. And that is what this proposal seeks to accomplish.

“WILL’s proposed changes,” commented the Dane County Board, “would only allow for consideration of partisan interests rather than those of individual Wisconsinites and civic groups that can provide for knowledge about their regions and how certain redistricting of areas would affect them.” The changes “would decrease transparency in the redistricting process and would allow the Court to bypass consideration of any views by groups other than elected officials and/or political parties.”

For anyone who cares about having a true democracy in Wisconsin, there is no issue of greater importance.

3 thoughts on “Murphys Law: Beware the GOP Redistricting Proposal”

  1. RadioWires says:

    All up to Hagedorn to decide if Wisconsin should return to democracy for the next decade or not

  2. Carl Schwartz says:

    Bruce Murphy’s column is atop my list of reasons for subscribing to Urban Milwaukee.

  3. Thomas Sepllman says:

    Who is being Petitioned? WILL and Jensen have what power to do what and if they can do that then surely we should make an identical petition for some other group to do redraw the political lines PEace

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