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Wisconsin's top court rejects GOP-led plan to alter how redistricting is challenged

Wisconsin's top court rejects GOP-led plan to alter how redistricting is challenged

Wisconsin’s top court Friday rejected a GOP-led plan to implement new rules that would have directed challenges to new political maps to the state Supreme Court instead of federal courts.

The court shot down the proposed rule, put forth by former Republican Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen and conservative legal firm Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), in an unsigned ruling. The Republicans’ efforts would have mandated that any challenges to the maps be decided by the state Supreme Court immediately, rather than making its way through lower courts or going to federal courts.

The decision from the court marked a defeat for Republicans who will be unable to muscle through new maps on their own now that Democrats control the governorship — as opposed to in 2011, after then-Gov. Scott Walker (R) was elected. 

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“The court determined that, as drafted, the procedures proposed in this administrative rule petition are unlikely to materially aid this court's consideration of an as yet undefined future redistricting challenge, and voted to deny the petition,” the court ruled. 

“Our decision in this rule matter should not be deemed predictive of this court's response to a petition for review asking this court to review a lower court's ruling on a redistricting challenge or a request that we assume original jurisdiction over a future redistricting case or controversy. It remains well-settled that redistricting challenges often merit this court's exercise of its original jurisdiction.”

The state government in Wisconsin will have to redraw its political lines heading into the 2022 races after the full results of the 2020 census are released. The process will have profound impacts on the makeup of the state legislature and the lines of the state’s eight congressional districts. 

The lines drawn in 2011 helped the GOP win sprawling majorities in both state legislative chambers and gain advantages in five congressional seats.

The lawsuit, and the high court’s ruling Friday, underscored the reality that the remapping is likely headed to a court battle given that Republicans control both houses of the state legislature and Democrats hold the governorship.

WILL recognized its defeat but underscored that the state Supreme Court left the door open to playing a role in redistricting.

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“The Court has determined the proposed rule is not needed, but has made clear that rejection of the rule does not mean the Court will reject its jurisdictional role with respect to redistricting,” said WILL President Rick Esenberg.