WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the U.S. Supreme Court granted an emergency request from the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature to throw out the state’s newly adopted legislative maps. The adopted maps created seven majority-Black Assembly districts and two majority-Black state Senate districts, which the Legislature argued was not required under the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and thus they are racial gerrymanders that violate the U.S. Constitution. In its ruling today, a majority of the justices agreed with the Legislature, holding that the state Supreme Court improperly used race when adopting new legislative maps — despite the fact that the court did not have VRA or race-based claims before it — thereby pushing back against the additional majority-Black districts added during the latest round of redistricting. This is the first time this year the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on its “shadow docket” to throw out maps based on its interpretation of the VRA; the Court’s other shadow docket rulings on new maps focused on the timing of upcoming elections and whether relief could be implemented in time.
The majority held that the Wisconsin Supreme Court “committed legal error in its application of decisions of this Court regarding the relationship between the constitutional guarantee of equal protection and the VRA.” The unsigned opinion pointed to VRA precedents to support its conclusion that the state Supreme Court failed to answer whether “a race-neutral alternative that did not add a seventh majority-black district would deny black voters equal political opportunity.” This order means that the newly adopted maps are thrown out and the case is remanded back to the Wisconsin Supreme Court for a redrawing process before the state’s August primary elections.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, dissented, writing that this decision ignores the proper process for challenging the maps. Sotomayor points out that “no Equal Protection Clause or VRA claim was before” the Wisconsin Supreme Court — only malapportionment claims and the need for new maps following legislative impasse — and that “adjudicating such claims would require a fuller record and a closer assessment.” Sotomayor closed her dissent by writing that the “Wisconsin Supreme Court rightly preserved the possibility that an appropriate plaintiff could bring an equal protection or VRA challenge in the proper form,” admonishing the “extraordinary” and “unnecessary” decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.