The Battle Against Partisan Gerrymandering in Wisconsin Progresses This Summer

Editorial Cartoon by Phil Hands of the Wisconsin State Journal – 6/30/19

Despite U.S. Supreme Court’s Cowardly Decision
to “Punt,” States Move Forward

Wisconsin Fair Maps “Summit” – November 9th in Marshfield

At the end of June, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), who, together, have conspired to block redistricting reform and fair voting maps despite overwhelming citizens support for the past six years, must have thought they finally succeeded in strangling the increasingly powerful and growing citizen movement, working to end partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin.

A narrow, conservative, 5 to 4 majority on the U.S. Supreme Court issued a weak, cowardly and ill-conceived decision that said federal courts should not adjudicate, on the basis of excessive partisanship, the voting maps drawn by partisan legislators after the Census every ten years, even if the maps effectively disenfranchised a majority of voters in a legislative or congressional district in order to achieve a pre-ordained, partisan outcome.

Chief Justice John Roberts, the author of the decision, readily admitted that partisan gerrymandering was unfair and undemocratic, but chose to exclude the federal judiciary from weighing in to mollify the powerful right wing interests that had elevated him to his exalted position in 2005. But he did not preclude the states from pursuing an end to gerrymandering.

That June 27th decision ended a challenge to partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina, Rucho V. Common Cause and by extension, a pending and revised Wisconsin challenge to partisan gerrymandering, Gill V. Whitford.

But Vos and Fitzgerald, as is so often the case, miscalculated the strength and commitment that Common Cause in Wisconsin members and thousands of Wisconsin citizens bring in demanding some semblance of fairness and a return to democracy to Wisconsin. As we said on July 1st, “With federal courts now out of the fight, it’s entirely up to “We the People.” And we explained why the U.S. Supreme Court decision did not mean redistricting reform is dead. Far from it.

In July, CC/WI Director Jay Heck and two University of Wisconsin faculty experts on this issue explained the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision on redistricting reform efforts in Wisconsin on Wisconsin Eye‘s special program on the matter.

And, after the Supreme Court “indecision,” CC/WI continued the effort to educate Wisconsin Citizens about the importance of action on the local level to mobilize citizens in support of ending partisan gerrymandering. CC/WI board chair Tim Cullen, CC/WI board member Kriss Marion and CC/WI Director Jay Heck spoke at a well-attended meeting in Darlington in Lafayette County about this.

In mid July, “stand alone” redistricting reform legislation based on the Iowa system, which CC/WI united pro-reform legislators and groups behind in 2013, was formally introduced in the Wisconsin Legislature by State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and State Representative Robyn Vining (D-Waukesha) with CC/WI Chair and former State Senator Tim Cullen. What was very different this time was the significant Republican support and co-sponsorship of the legislation: Senate Bill 288 and Assembly Bill 303. During the past three sessions of the Wisconsin Legislature, similar reform legislation had attracted only one Republican co-sponsor. Now, it has four: State Representatives Joel Kitchens of Sturgeon Bay, Todd Novak of Dodgeville, Loren Oldenburg of Virocqua and Travis Tranel of Cuba City.

Clearly state legislators are hearing from their constituents, including many CC/WI Members. Keep on applying the pressure on your state legislators. It’s working!

On September 3rd, a state court in North Carolina overturned the partisan voter maps drawn by Republicans in that state in 2011 in a lawsuit brought by Common Cause North Carolina. While the facts of the case and wording of the state constitution are different in Wisconsin, as is the composition of state courts here, there is renewed hope that a remedy to the hyper-partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin could be remedied through state court action, as well as legislatively. In any event we will not stop pursuing our fight to bring fair voting maps to Wisconsin – now or ever.

* * *

CC/WI is one of a number of state reform organizations that are participating in, and will present at a Fair Maps Summit to be held in Marshfield on Saturday, November 9th. Any and all Wisconsin citizens are invited to attend. Mark your calendars now and plan to be there if you can!