Johnson v. Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC)

No. 2021AP1450-OA

 

This case resulted in new legislative district maps for Wisconsin. The redistricting process often involves courts in Wisconsin (see our Redistricting 101 explainer), but this was the first time in over 50 years that the Wisconsin Supreme Court adopted new maps, instead of a federal court. When new census data was released, Law Forward filed federal redistricting litigation:  BLOC v. Spindell. Right-wing groups asked the State Supreme Court to handle redistricting instead, and Law Forward filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking that redistricting litigation proceed in federal court. Our brief highlighted the complex federal issues at play including compliance with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Ultimately, the Wisconsin Supreme Court took the case, and Law Forward represented a group of nonprofit organizations and individual voters there, advocating for fair maps. The Court adopted a “least-change” approach to redistricting that ensured Wisconsin’s partisan gerrymander would be carried forward for another decade, over the objections of Law Forward, other groups, and citizen activists. In March, the Court briefly adopted maps proposed by Governor Evers, but right-wing litigants appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite the fact that Wisconsin was on the eve of
administering elections on the new districts, the U.S. Supreme Court send the state legislative maps back to the state court. The Wisconsin Supreme Court jettisoned the maps it had just adopted and imposed maps drawn by the State Legislature—deepening the partisan gerrymander even further.

Wisconsin’s 2022 elections for State Assembly and State Senate will be held based on those maps. But Law Forward won’t stop fighting until Wisconsinites have the fair maps they deserve, and all our voices have equal weight in our democracy.

Case Timeline


 

September 7, 2021

Brief filed.

January 19, 2022

The justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court heard oral argument in the redistricting case, Johnson v. WEC. This is expected to be the final step before the Court rules, adopting new maps for the next decade of elections in Wisconsin. Law Forward’s Litigation Director, Doug Poland, argued on behalf of our clients and their proposed maps in court. Much of the day’s discussion focused on the Voting Rights Act and how Milwaukee’s districts should be drawn to avoid diluting the voting strength of Black voters. Law Forward’s proposed maps include 7 assembly districts where Black voters should have the opportunity to elect their candidate of choice. The Legislature’s proposal (passed and vetoed as SB621 before it was submitted to the Court) includes only 5 such districts, diluting the voice of Black voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Lawyers for eight of the nine parties to the case argued for a total of over 5 hours, fielding questions from all 7 justices. The Court could issue a ruling adopting new maps as soon as late January or early February.

With multiple redistricting lawsuits pending in federal court, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) has asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to instead take on redistricting disputes under its original jurisdiction: skipping the trial courts that normally take and weigh evidence. While Wisconsin’s redistricting ends up in court nearly every decade, federal courts (where judges have lifetime appointments instead of standing for election) have heard these cases for the past four decades. WILL previously asked the State Supreme Court to adopt a rule that would fast-track redistricting disputes, placing them directly before the high court and short-changing legal review. Despite that rules request being turned away by the Court in May, WILL has asked the Court to insert itself into politically-charged redistricting litigation this year.

March 3, 2022

In a 4-3 decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court established new maps for Wisconsin’s electoral districts, adopting Gov. Evers’s proposed maps.

Last November, the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided that new legislative districts must start with the past decade’s partisan gerrymander, and this “least-change” approach meant that the Governor’s proposed maps did much to improve representation for people across our state within the narrow confines as the Court defined.

During oral arguments, we presented strong evidence explaining the Voting Rights Act, which ended up being key to the Court’s decision.

The Court relied on our expert analysis to reflect demographic shifts in Milwaukee in these new maps. These 7 districts do a better job better job protecting the votes of Black communities in Milwaukee from being unfairly diluted than the old maps.

The court has spoken, and for the fall 2022 election, Wisconsin will have new maps – fairer ones than we’ve had in a decade.

April 15, 2022

In a stunning reversal of their previous decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court allowed politicians to pick their voters. That’s not how it should work in our system.

CASE CATEGORY:
Redistricting & Fair Maps

JURISDICTION:
Wisconsin Supreme Court

CASE STAGE
Closed