Supreme Court Throws Out Race-Based Redistricting Plan

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday tossed out the legislative redistricting plan proposed by Democratic Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers and approved by the Wisconsin Supreme Court because it improperly applied the federal Voting Rights Act.

The plan approved by the state court would have increased the number of majority Black districts in the state assembly from six to seven. The Supreme Court issued an unsigned decision that sided with the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature’s argument that race should not have been considered in choosing a final map.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented, calling the decision an “unprecedented” intervention that was unnecessary.

The dispute arose from efforts by the state legislature to draw new districting maps for the state assembly and state senate following the 2020 federal census. The governor vetoed the maps originally prepared by the legislature last year.

As litigation over redistricting proceeded, the Wisconsin Supreme Court asked the various parties involved to propose new redistricting plans. The legislature presented the map it originally prepared while Gov. Evers submitted the plan increasing the number of Black districts from six to seven.

On March 3, the state supreme court ruled by adopting the map presented by Evers. That court said that “there are good reasons to believe” another Black majority district was needed to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. That law prohibits racial discrimination in election procedures.

The Wisconsin legislature appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking for an immediate stay of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling. It argued that without a stay the upcoming elections would be based on “racially gerrymandered districts” that “could not possibly survive” judicial review under the Equal Protection Clause.

The legislature argued that the race-based decision to approve the Evers plan failed to obey the Supreme Court’s “repeated warnings” that the Voting Rights Act does not require maximizing the number of minority voting districts.

The Supreme Court’s ruling reversed the approval of the Evers map and sent the case back to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in order to approve new maps in time for the state’s primary election set for August 9. The ruling stated that the state court could only have selected the Evers map if it concluded that the Voting Rights Act required an additional majority-Black district, which the state court had already conceded it could not do.