Wisconsin’s upcoming state Supreme Court election is crucial for many reasons that will impact every Wisconsinite; however, redrawing the state’s political maps is one of the issues that has not gotten as much coverage during the race. Democrats have said that if they win control of the court, overturning the state’s congressional and state legislative maps is on the table along with numerous other liberal wishlist items. Over $30 million has been spent on advertising to date in the state on this election. Protasiewicz has spent more than $10 million on TV compared to the roughly $500,000 Kelly has spent on TV so far during the campaign. Democrats have poured money and resources into this race in an effort to buy a seat and by extension control of the court.
Overturning the state’s legislative maps could result in Republicans potentially losing power at the state level altogether. The process for drawing new political maps for the state is unclear and depends on if the Democratic nominee, Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz, or the Republican nominee, Judge Daniel Kelly wins the April 4th election. The state Assembly currently has 64 Republicans and 35 Democrats while the state Senate has 21 Republicans and 11 Democrats with one vacant seat. If Democrats were to gain control in the Legislature, it would open the door to any number of policy changes that they haven’t been able to pursue in recent history, like expanding Medicaid and weakening the state’s election laws. Republicans in the state legislature fell just short of a supermajority needed to override vetoes from Gov. Tony Evers (D) following the 2022 midterm elections.
Wisconsin has a history of close election results in the past few cycles. In 2022, Sen. Ron Johnson (R) won reelection to the U.S. Senate by one percent and Evers won reelection by just over 3 percent. In 2020, President Biden won the state by just over half a percent and former President Trump won the state in 2016 by .7 percent. Democrats wanting to change the map in their favor in one of the most crucial states in the 2024 cycle is a sign that they are worried about running on their record and want to ensure that they control the electoral rules for 2024 and beyond.
Critics of the current map have called Wisconsin’s state legislative maps among some of the most gerrymandered in the country. In a candidate forum in January, Judge Protasiewicz said of the state’s legislative maps, “Let’s be clear here: the maps are rigged. Absolutely, positively rigged. They do not reflect the people in the state.” Protasiewicz has already revealed that she has her ruling in mind without hearing the merits of whatever case may be brought before the court. In 2021, an analysis from Marquette University Law School concluded that Republicans in WI enjoy “a basic structural advantage” and that any map drawn in the 2020s probably would still favor the GOP — even if Democrats got 51% of the vote. Drastically redrawing the state political maps would disproportionately hurt conservatives.
Democrats had more favorable state legislative maps selected following the 2020 census but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the state Supreme Court’s ruling that had sided with Gov. Evers in creating more assembly districts with majority African American voters by saying the state’s Supreme Court had not considered carefully enough whether the Voting Rights Act, a federal law that protects minority voting power, required the addition of more assembly districts where Black voters made up a majority of voters. Protasiewicz predicted that the issue would come again before the state Supreme Court especially if she wins the upcoming election.
Judge Daniel Kelly has a proven track record of following the constitution and would be a consistent and even-handed judge. Ensuring that no drastic changes to the state’s political maps happen only 2 years after the decennial redistricting process is crucial for stability in Wisconsin. Judge Kelly has called the idea of fairness in the maps a political question and something the court must avoid. Kelly also said, “the members of this court have not been entrusted with making political decisions, only legal decisions.” Electing Judge Kelly on April 4 would mean that Wisconsinites can continue to count on a court that will uphold the laws of Wisconsin and not create a new political reality for the state out of thin air.
Margaret Iuculano is the Executive Vice President for FreedomWorks for America.