Democrats Skeptical Over Wisconsin Republicans’ Willingness to Adopt Governor’s Legislative Maps

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate signaled that they might adopt legislative maps drawn by the state’s Democratic Governor Tony Evers, which would greatly reduce the GOP’s legislative majority. 

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R) told the Wisconsin State Journal on Wednesday that his party is considering signing off on Evers’ maps, a crucial step in the long legal journey to enact new, non-gerrymandered legislative maps in Badger State. LeMahieu’s comments come a week after a pair of redistricting experts hired by the Wisconsin Supreme Court found that the two GOP-drawn maps in consideration are extreme “partisan gerrymanders” and should not be adopted. 

The report evaluated six plans for new maps in consideration in Wisconsin — the four others included one drawn by  Evers, one from the state’s Democratic lawmakers, one from professors from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and one proposed by the petitioners who sued over the original GOP-drawn maps — and concluded that one of the four Democratic-aligned maps were best suited for adoption. 

In December, the state’s highest court struck down the state’s legislative maps as unconstitutional and ordered that the Legislature must adopt remedial maps in time for the 2024 election. The Wisconsin Election Commission said that new maps must be in place by March 15. 

Of the four maps on the table, Evers’ map is most favorable to the GOP, according to the redistricting experts’ report. Wisconsin Republicans previously said they had “no problem” with Evers’ maps but then hastily passed new maps kept secret from Democrats and the public on Jan. 24, in a last-ditch effort to protect GOP incumbents. Evers vetoed the maps, stating that they were “designed to undemocratically serve the politicians who draft them.”

In addition to LeMahieu, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) and Assembly Elections Committee chair Scott Krug (R) both said that they support passing Evers’ maps unchanged, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. The Senate is scheduled to consider a redistricting bill on Tuesday.

But there’s a concern among Wisconsin Democrats that the support for Evers’ maps among the state’s Republicans sets up a federal legal challenge that could ultimately keep the state with its current gerrymandered maps. “I know Vos and his people and it’s not like they’re just going to roll over and say, ‘OK, we’ll take the governor’s map and we’ll enjoy the Senate for two more years and after that we’re cooked,’” a source familiar with Wisconsin redistricting told Democracy Docket.

Should Evers’ map pass, Republicans could find a voter to file a U.S. Constitutional challenge to the map, arguing that it unlawfully racially gerrymanders. The challenge would be reviewed by a three-judge panel with at least two judges hand-picked by the chief judge of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the source explained. The chief judge for the 7th Circuit is Diane Sykes, a conservative justice who was on former President Donald Trump’s short list for the Supreme Court and contributor to the controversial right-wing legal group The Federalist Society.

This potential legal strategy for Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature has caught the attention of some of the state’s Democratic lawmakers. Rep. Mark Pocan (D) told Democracy Docket that he’s concerned about this strategy coming to fruition. “If we get these new maps, the governor’s maps, signed by the Republicans, it’s more than likely that there’ll be a challenge in the 7th Circuit Court,” he said. 

“We’re fearful the Republicans are finally trying to come around to do what they should have done in the first place, but they’re doing it with — I guess the technical term would be ‘with shit-eating grins on their faces,’” he added. “We can assume that this is not done because of the idea of good government.”

Read more about the case challenging Wisconsin’s legislative maps here.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that any Republican voter could file a U.S. Constitutional challenge to Evers’ map and argue that it unfairly favors Democrats. The story has been updated to state that a voter could argue that the map unlawfully racially gerrymanders. Partisan gerrymandering claims are nonjusticiable in federal court. The Wisconsin Senate Journal has also been corrected to the Wisconsin State Journal.