Democrats filed the first Wisconsin lawsuit related to the 2021 redistricting process on Friday, arguing a federal court should step in to draw the state’s next set of political maps because state lawmakers and Gov. Tony Evers are unlikely to reach a timely consensus on the matter.
The federal lawsuit comes just one day after the U.S. Census Bureau released the data necessary to begin the redistricting process. It argues the new population numbers show Wisconsin’s current state legislative and congressional districts are vastly out-of-date and that any partisan gridlock and delay in implementing new maps would compromise voters’ constitutional rights. It contends the court should immediately take jurisdiction over the mapmaking process and “establish a schedule that will enable the Court to adopt its own plans in the near-certain event that the political branches fail timely to do so.”
“We think there is a high likelihood that there may be an impasse and that the court should be prepared to step in, in the event that that occurs,” said Aria Branch, one of the lawyers in the case.
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Evers, a Democrat, has called on the GOP-controlled state Legislature to consider maps that will be drawn by a redistricting commission he created, but GOP leaders have not said they will do so. Evers has the power to veto any maps he doesn’t like, which would send the maps to the courts.
The last time maps were drawn under a politically-divided state government, in 2001, the maps ended up going before a federal appellate court, which redrew some districts after a long legal battle between Republicans and Democrats.
The new lawsuit was brought on behalf of six Democratic plaintiffs from Dane, Waukesha and Shawano counties, saying those counties are in state legislative and congressional districts that are now vastly overpopulated, based on the latest Census numbers.
“The census data is very clear that our plaintiffs live in districts that are overpopulated and that if maps are not redrawn before the next election, their constitutional rights will be violated,” Branch said. “They don’t have the same voting power as voters who live in districts that are not overpopulated. Their votes, essentially, count way less than other voters’ (votes).”
According to census data, Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional District, which is currently represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, grew the most between the 2010 and 2020 population counts. The district is roughly 7 percent larger than it was 10 years ago, meaning many more voters are packed into the district now than other congressional districts in the state. Under the U.S. Constitution, the population of congressional districts is required to be as equal as possible.
The governor and Republican legislative leaders didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.
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