State of Wisconsin

Wisconsin Redistricting Challenge (WILL)

Johnson v. Wisconsin Elections Commission

Petition filed in the Wisconsin Supreme Court by the conservative group Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) on behalf of individual voters challenging Wisconsin’s congressional and legislative district maps following the release of 2020 census data. The petitioners argue that the state’s current maps are malapportioned in violation of the constitutional principle of one person, one vote and ask the court to require that new maps are used for future elections. The suit also asks the court to intervene in the redistricting process in the event that either maps passed by the Legislature are challenged or the state government fails to enact new maps in time for the 2022 election.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court granted the petition and adopted the congressional and legislative maps proposed by Gov. Tony Evers (D). The Wisconsin Legislature then filed an emergency application in the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of this order pending appeal regarding the new legislative districts, which the Court granted. In an unsigned opinion, a majority of the Court sent the legislative maps back to the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reconsider racial considerations in drawing legislative districts. Republican congressmen from the state also filed an emergency application in the U.S. Supreme Court Court regarding the adopted congressional map, which the Court denied. On remand, the Wisconsin Supreme Court then adopted the Wisconsin Legislature’s proposed legislative map over the governor’s proposed map, concluding that the Legislature’s proposed maps were race neutral.

On Jan. 16, 2024, the Hunter intervenors filed a motion to reopen litigation over Wisconsin’s congressional map in Johnson v. Wisconsin Elections Commission. The Hunter intervenors argue that the Johnson case should be reopened in light of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s recent decision in Clarke v. Wisconsin Elections Commission, which overruled the court’s prior decisions in Johnson governing the state’s approach to redistricting. In particular, the Hunter intervenors note that the court’s Clarke decision overruled what is known as the “least change” approach to redistricting — a principle that the state Supreme Court adopted in the Johnson litigation and applied when ordering the implementation of the state’s current congressional map. Under this now-defunct principle, the court required the state to make the minimum changes necessary to its previous legislative and congressional maps, leading the court to adopt the Legislature’s proposed congressional map for the 2022 elections. 

The Hunter intervenors argue that the state’s current congressional map — which was adopted using the least-change principle — violates the court’s newly clarified redistricting criteria. They also assert that the current congressional map “suffers from serious partisan unfairness” in favor of Republicans and violates the separation of powers principle. The intervenors request that parties be allowed to “submit remedial congressional plans that satisfy Wisconsin’s judicial redistricting criteria for congressional maps as clarified by Clarke” for 2024.

On March 1, 2024, the Wisconsin Supreme Court denied the Hunter intervenors’ motion to reopen the litigation, thereby leaving the state’s current congressional map in place for the 2024 elections.

In the Courtroom

The state Supreme Court heard oral argument in this case on Jan. 19, 2022 — the first time the state court system has been involved in redistricting since 1964. Over the course of the day, the various parties in the suit argued in favor of their map proposals and attacked proposals they argue did not comply with the court’s least-change approach or state and/or federal law. The state Supreme Court justices focused many of their questions on how the Voting Rights Act (VRA) applied to the Milwaukee area and how many legislative districts should be drawn. The court’s swing justice, Brian Hagedorn, was particularly keen to understand if the VRA even needs to be applied to the Milwaukee area. The parties also focused on how various proposals were aligned with the least-change directive from the justices, with particular emphasis on how wards and counties were split and how population shifts were accounted for. The court is expected to release its decision in the coming weeks. A consolidated federal case remains paused until the state supreme court issues its decision. All of the parties’ proposed maps and related filings can be viewed here and you can read more about this case here.

Case Documents (wi supreme court)

Case Documents (U.S. supreme court)

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