MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Democrats are inching closer to overturning Republican-drawn legislative maps that the GOP has used over the past 13 years to grow their majorities and advance their agenda.
At issue in battleground Wisconsin are the boundaries for state Assembly and Senate districts in a purple state where Republicans have held a firm grip on control of the Legislature even as Democrats have notched significant statewide wins.
Republicans drew the lines in 2011 and Democratic court challenges have since failed to overturn them, until now. Republican maps adopted in 2022 by the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court used the 2011 map as a template and kept largely the same lines in place.
The Democrats’ latest lawsuit alleged the lines drawn by Republicans were unconstitutional because not all of the districts were contiguous, meaning some areas were disconnected from the rest of the district. The Wisconsin Supreme Court in December agreed and ordered new maps to be drawn in time for the November election.
Here's a look at where things currently stand.
WHAT'S AT STAKE?
Who has the most boundary lines. When Republicans took over majority control following the 2010 election they had a 19-14 edge in the Senate and 57-38 in the Assembly. After the 2022 election, their majorities increased to 22-11 in the Senate and a 65-34 supermajority in the Assembly.
WHAT ARE THE POLITICS?
Democrats filed their latest lawsuit the day after the Wisconsin Supreme Court flipped to majority liberal control in August after the election win by Justice Janet Protasiewicz. Her vote was the difference maker in the 4-3 December ruling tossing the Republican maps.
WHAT CAN REPUBLICANS DO?
Republicans are running out of options to stop the lines from being redrawn. They argued Protasiewicz shouldn't hear the lawsuit because she said during her campaign that the GOP-drawn maps were “rigged” and “unfair.” But she did not recuse herself. Now Republicans are talking about raising that issue, and others, in an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court alleging due process violations.
WHAT WILL THE NEW MAPS LOOK LIKE?
Consultants hired by the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday said that maps submitted by the Republican Legislature and a conservative law firm were gerrymandered. They did not raise concerns about any of the four other Democratic-drawn maps but left the question of constitutionality to the Supreme Court.
The consultants determined the four remaining maps were virtually the same, and tweaks could be made by them or the court to bolster how well each map meets certain criteria including contiguity, political balance and preserving communities of interest.
Responses to the consultants' report are due on Feb. 8.
In public statements, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Democratic attorneys praised their findings and said Wisconsin is closer than ever to ending Republican gerrymandering. Republicans, meanwhile, blasted the report backing the Democratic maps as bogus and a “fog of faux sophistication.”
The court could ask the consultants to make revisions to a map, or the court could adopt one of the four proposals already submitted.
It's likely the new maps will come out between Feb. 9 and March 15, the deadline that the Wisconsin Elections Commission gave for new lines to be in place for the fall election. The deadline ensures candidates know the district lines before they take out nomination papers to get on the ballot.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER CHALLENGES?
The Wisconsin Supreme Court also has been asked by Democrats to take up a challenge to the state’s congressional district lines. The lawsuit argues the court’s decision to order new state legislative maps opens the door to challenging the congressional map. Republicans hold six of the state’s eight congressional seats.
The story has been corrected to say in the last paragraph that Republicans hold six of the state's eight congressional seats, not five.