Wisconsin Supreme Court Won’t Reopen Congressional Redistricting Case

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Wisconsin Supreme Court today denied a request from a group of voters seeking to reopen previous litigation over the state’s congressional map. The request, if granted, would have created a path for the implementation of new districts that comply with the state’s operative redistricting criteria potentially before the 2024 elections. 

Liberal Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz, the court’s newest member, did not participate in the consideration of the voters’ request. In a separate order issued today addressing the Wisconsin Legislature’s motion to recuse, Protasiewicz explained that she “decline[d] to participate in this proceeding because [she] was not a member of the court when it issued” a 2022 ruling on the state’s congressional map for which the voters sought reconsideration. 

The 2022 Wisconsin Supreme Court rulings at the center of the Wisconsin voters’ request stemmed from a case known as Johnson v. Wisconsin Elections Commission. That case culminated in the court’s selection of the Republican-controlled Legislature’s proposed congressional map instead of the governor’s proposed districts following an impasse between the two parties. In its final April 2022 ruling in Johnson, the court held that the Legislature’s map comported with the “least change principle” — a now-defunct principle requiring the state to make the minimum changes necessary to its previous legislative and congressional maps.

However, in a more recent December 2023 ruling issued in a separate case challenging the state’s legislative maps, the newly liberal 4-3 majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned the court’s “least change approach” and held that the existing legislative maps violated the state constitutional requirement that districts be contiguous (meaning touching). Since that ruling in Clarke v. Wisconsin Elections Commission, the state has implemented new legislative districts for future elections.  

On the heels of the Clarke decision, Wisconsin voters’ filed a request in the pre-existing Johnson case for the Wisconsin Supreme Court to consider newly proposed congressional districts that comply with the court’s updated redistricting precedent. The voters’ January 2024 motion underscored that in its Clarke opinion, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overruled its previous decisions in the Johnson case governing the state’s “least change” approach to redistricting. 

In addition to arguing that the state’s current congressional map violates the state Supreme Court’s newly clarified redistricting criteria, the voters maintained that the congressional map “suffers from serious partisan unfairness” and violates the separation of powers principle. According to the filing, “Republicans won 75% of the state’s congressional seats despite winning only 50% of the statewide vote,” making the map “an extreme outlier favoring Republicans.” The state is currently represented by six Republicans and two Democrats in Congress. 

As a result of today’s order, Wisconsin’s current congressional districts will remain on the books. However, the order does not preclude new litigation challenging the state’s congressional districts for future elections beyond 2024.

Read the order here.

Learn more about the case here.