Wisconsin top court hears contentious case on gerrymandered districts

Liberals Tuesday urged the Wisconsin Supreme Court to overturn Republican-drawn legislative maps that have entrenched the GOP in dominant power despite the battleground state’s electorate being virtually evenly split between the two parties.

Democrats are demanding fairer maps to better reflect the state’s narrow partisan divide and say the current maps were brazenly drawn to keep Republicans in power in violation of the state constitution.

Conservatives counter that Democrats are mounting a power grab after a liberal judge won a tie-breaking seat on the seven-member court.

Among the most egregious features of the gerrymandered maps are so-called Swiss cheese districts that connect nearby pockets of land to either pack Democrats together in fewer districts or spread out GOP voters to give them majorities in more places.

“This shocks people across the country who look at this map,” said Mark Gaber, an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center.

The fight comes ahead of the hotly contested 2024 election in one of the nation’s preeminent battleground states where four of the six past presidential elections have been decided by fewer than 23,000 votes.

The questionable maps allow Republicans to hold a two-thirds supermajority in the state Senate and close to two-thirds in the Assembly.

The lawsuit was brought by Democratic voters the day after the court flipped to majority 4-3 liberal control in August after Justice Janet Protasiewicz’s win last spring.

Taylor Meehan, attorney for the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature, said the lawsuit was wrongheaded and that Democrats only filed it because control of the court flipped.

“They are a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Meehan said.

The court was expected to issue its ruling no later than early 2024.

The state’s eight congressional districts are not immediately at stake in the case, although Republicans have drawn the lines to give themselves a dominant 6-2 majority.

New York’s highest court heard arguments last week on whether an independent redistricting commission should take another crack at drawing congressional districts.