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Fight escalates in Wisconsin over legislative, congressional maps

evers
Posted at 12:39 PM, Jan 30, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-30 13:39:41-05

MADISON (AP) — Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday vetoed a redistricting proposal that the Republican-controlled Legislature passed last week in a last-ditch effort to avert the drawing of legislative boundaries by the state Supreme Court.

The veto came a day after five of Wisconsin's Republican members of Congress, along with the GOP-controlled Legislature, asked the newest liberal member of the state Supreme Court not to hear a lawsuit that seeks to redraw congressional district maps ahead of the November election.

The political stakes in both cases are huge for both sides in the presidential battleground state, where Republicans have had a firm grip on the Legislature since 2011 even as Democrats have won statewide elections, including for governor in 2018 and 2022.

Evers had promised to veto the GOP legislative-district proposal, which largely mirrored maps he had proposed, but with changes that would reduce the number of GOP incumbents in the state Senate and Assembly who would have to face one another in November.

Evers said he vetoed the maps because they are "more of the same."

"Republicans passed maps to help make sure Republican-gerrymandered incumbents get to keep their seats," he said in a statement. "Folks, that's just more gerrymandering."

Republicans don't have enough votes in the Legislature to override the veto.

The liberal-controlled state Supreme Court last month tossed the current Republican-drawn legislative maps as unconstitutional. The court said it would draw new maps unless the Legislature and Evers agreed to ones first.

They could not agree.

The Legislature raced to pass maps ahead of Thursday's deadline for consultants hired by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to submit their recommendations for new boundary lines. They were reviewing six maps submitted separately by Evers, Republicans, Democrats and others. They could recommend one of those maps, or their own. It will then be up to the liberal-controlled court to order the maps.

The legislative machinations in Wisconsin come as litigation continues in more than dozen states over U.S. House and state legislative districts that were enacted after the 2020 census. National Democrats last week asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take up a challenge to the state's congressional districts, but the court has yet to decide whether to take the case.

That lawsuit argues that decision last month ordering new state legislative maps opens the door to the latest challenge focused on congressional lines.

Republicans asked in that legislative-district case for Justice Janet Protasiewicz to recuse herself, based on comments she made during her campaign calling the maps "rigged" and "unfair." She refused to step aside and was part of the 4-3 majority in December that ordered new maps.

Now Republicans are making similar arguments in calling for her to not hear the congressional redistricting challenge. In a motion filed Monday, they argued that her comments critical of the Republican maps require her to step aside in order to avoid a due process violation of the U.S. Constitution. They also cite the nearly $10 million her campaign received from the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

"A justice cannot decide a case she has prejudged or when her participation otherwise creates a serious risk of actual bias," Republicans argued in the motion. "Justice Protasiewicz's public campaign statements establish a constitutionally intolerable risk that she has prejudged the merits of this case."

Protasiewicz rejected similar arguments in the state legislative map redistricting case, saying in October that the law did not require her to step down from that case.

"Recusal decisions are controlled by the law," Protasiewicz wrote then. "They are not a matter of personal preference. If precedent requires it, I must recuse. But if precedent does not warrant recusal, my oath binds me to participate."

Those seeking her recusal in the congressional redistricting case are the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Legislature and Republican U.S. Reps. Scott Fitzgerald, Glenn Grothman, Mike Gallagher, Bryan Steil and Tom Tiffany.

The only Republican not involved in the lawsuit is U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden, who represents western Wisconsin's 3rd Congressional District. His is one of only two congressional districts in Wisconsin seen as competitive.

The current congressional maps in Wisconsin were drawn by Evers and approved by the state Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court in March 2022 declined to block them from taking effect.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is under an extremely tight deadline to consider the challenge. State elections officials have said that new maps must be in place by March 15 in order for candidates and elections officials to adequately prepare for the Aug. 13 primary. Candidates can start circulating nomination papers on April 15.

The lawsuit argues that there is time for the court to accept map submissions and select one to be in place for the November election.