WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, Sept. 14, the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Assembly passed a redistricting bill, Assembly Bill 415. The 64-32 vote was nearly along party lines with only one Democratic representative voting for the legislation and is a move meant to preempt the Wisconsin Supreme Court from ordering the drawing of fair state legislative maps.
According to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R), A.B. 415, introduced on Tuesday, is modeled after Iowa’s redistricting process and would create a five-person advisory commission that would hold public hearings discussing the state’s House and Senate maps. The commission would then send this testimony over to the state’s Legislative Resource Bureau (LRB), which would be tasked with drawing the state’s maps and presenting them to the Legislature for its approval. The LRB is a nonpartisan legislative service agency that provides the Wisconsin Legislature with legal, research and information services.
The redistricting legislation was rapidly drafted the same day it was introduced. It then bypassed the committee process and went to the Assembly floor for a vote without any opportunity for public comment. Democratic lawmakers in the state, like Rep. Deb Andraca (D), have called attention to the rushed process, saying, “ANY bill that does not get a public hearing is a giant red flag.”
Yesterday, the Wisconsin Democrats released a statement from Iowa leaders, both Democrat and Republican, calling out the misleading bill for “cherry picking elements.” The bipartisan memo further elaborates, “The proposal currently in front of the Wisconsin Legislature cannot be accurately called the Iowa model because it lacks the elements that have been the foundation for our system’s success.”
“The clearest and most consequential difference is that Wisconsin’s proposal rejects [the Iowa] system of judicial review.”
Ahead of yesterday’s vote, Democrats slammed the bill for this key difference, pointing out that the Wisconsin Legislature would draw the maps if they twice rejected the ones proposed by the LRB. Critically, Republicans hold a veto-proof supermajority in the state Senate and are just shy of a supermajority in the state Assembly.
Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand (D) also called out the misnomer: “This is not the Iowa model. It’s also just impossible to expect Iowa-style fair results when you still have the capacity to gerrymander at the end of the day, which is what this bill allows for. They can reject, and reject, and draw their own [maps].”
Many also see the move as a blatant attempt to prevent the Wisconsin Supreme Court from striking down the state’s maps. Two lawsuits challenging the maps are pending in the state’s highest court, which has a new liberal majority after Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz was elected in April with a resounding 11-point margin in a state where a 3-point margin is considered a landslide.
Republican lawmakers in the state have threatened to impeach Protasiewicz — who joined the court in August and has yet to hear a case — if she does not recuse herself from the pending redistricting cases. Republicans have cited her criticism of the maps as “rigged” as a reason for impeachment. This is despite the fact that political statements are allowed and, in fact, other current justices have made statements on matters of public opinion.
A recent lawsuit was also filed that seeks to prevent an impeachment of the justice over the matter, alleging that there is no basis to “justify the permanent destruction” of their fundamental right to vote given that “there is no factual finding of any crime or corruption” to justify the impeachment of Protasiewicz under the state constitution.
Gov. Tony Evers (D) called the redistricting legislation “bogus,” and argued that “Republicans are making a last-ditch effort to retain legislative control by having someone Legislature-picked and Legislature-approved draw Wisconsin’s maps.” In his criticism of the bill, Evers contextualized the weight of A.B. 415, “The [Republican legislators] just proved why they can’t be trusted with that responsibility—because they’ll threaten, intimidate, punish, and even attempt to illegally fire anyone who stands in their way,” referencing Republicans’ ongoing efforts to remove Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe.
Now that the Assembly passed the redistricting legislation, it goes to the Wisconsin Senate for consideration. If passed by the Senate, the bill would go to Evers, who is expected to veto it before it returns to the Legislature for a potential override.