U.S. Supreme Court blocks Wisconsin state legislative maps

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision on March 23 adopting Gov. Tony Evers’ (D) state house and senate redistricting maps and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Supreme Court found that the Wisconsin Supreme Court erred in its analysis of precedent on how the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause should apply in race-based districting cases.

In its opinion, the Supreme Court wrote: “The question that our [Voting Rights Act of 1965] precedents ask and the court failed to answer is whether a race-neutral alternative that did not add a seventh majority-black district would deny black voters equal political opportunity. Answering that question requires an ‘intensely local appraisal’ of the challenged district.” The Supreme Court ruled the state supreme court did not conduct the appraisal correctly, writing, “When the Wisconsin Supreme Court endeavored to undertake a full strict-scrutiny analysis, it did not do so properly under our precedents, and its judgment cannot stand.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote an opinion dissenting from the court’s judgment, joined by Justice Elena Kagan. In her dissent, Sotomayor wrote: “The Court’s action today is unprecedented…Despite the fact that summary reversals are generally reserved for decisions in violation of settled law, the Court today faults the State Supreme Court for its failure to comply with an obligation that, under existing precedent, is hazy at best.” Sotomayor said because the state court “rightly preserved the possibility that an appropriate plaintiff could bring an equal protection or [Voting Rights Act] challenge in the proper forum,” she “would allow that process to unfold, rather than further complicating these proceedings with legal confusion through a summary reversal.”

The Wisconsin Supreme Court must now reconsider the case and decide how to redraw the state’s legislative districts. According to the U.S. Supreme Court opinion, the state court “is free to take additional evidence if it prefers to reconsider the Governor’s maps rather than choose from among the other submissions. Any new analysis, however, must comply with our equal protection jurisprudence.”

The case is the fourth legal challenge to district maps to reach the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2020 redistricting cycle. In a 5-4 order on Feb. 7, the court allowed a proposed Alabama congressional redistricting map to be implemented while under challenge in federal court for illegal racial gerrymandering in the case Merrill v. Milligan. The court issued orders on March 7 in two redistricting cases, Moore v. Harper in North Carolina and Toth v. Chapman in Pennsylvania, upholding the enacted congressional maps in both states.

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