Lawsuit Claims Wisconsin's Congressional District Maps Unconstitutional, Asks for New Ones

A lawsuit claims Wisconsin's current congressional and legislative maps are unconstitutional and is asking for new maps to be implemented ahead of the "near-certain event" that the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic governor can't reach a consensus on redistricting ahead of the 2022 election.

"There is no reasonable prospect that Wisconsin's political branches will reach consensus to enact lawful legislative and congressional district plans in time to be used in the upcoming 2022 election," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Madison, asking for the court to prevent the Wisconsin Elections Commission from using the current maps for future elections. It also asked for new maps to be drawn if Governor Tony Evers and the Legislature can't reach an agreement on district lines.

The lawsuit claims that the current maps, which were drawn by Republicans and enacted by then-Governor Scott Walker in 2011, are an unconstitutional gerrymander and therefore should not be used as a guide for drawing new lines.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Gov. Tony Evers
A lawsuit filed Friday in a federal court asked for the current congressional and legislative maps in Wisconsin be declared unconstitutional gerrymandering. Above, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, a member of Wisconsin's Electoral College, at the state Capitol in Madison on December 14, 2020. Morry Gash, Pool/Getty Images

Democratic elections attorney Marc Elias filed the lawsuit on behalf of six Wisconsin voters. It was submitted to the federal court less than 24 hours after the U.S. Census Bureau released population numbers that will guide the redistricting process.

Evers and Republican legislative leaders did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

While there is time for Evers and the Legislature to act, the lawsuit argues that the federal court should intervene now to set a schedule and be prepared to enacted its own maps "in the near-certain event that the political branches fail timely to do so."

While the lawsuit is the first to be filed in Wisconsin since the numbers were released, it's not expected to be the last. However, it does speak to the Democratic strategy of trying to block the drawing of new maps based on the current ones, which liberals tried unsuccessfully in court to get tossed after the previous round of redistricting.

"At the end of the day, we all expect the courts to be drawing maps," said Democratic U.S. Representative Mark Pocan, a former state Assembly member, before the lawsuit was filed.

Wisconsin's population increased by less than 4 percent over the past decade, and its number of congressional districts did not change, so Republicans are arguing that means relatively minor changes to the current maps are needed.

Armchair map drawers were already putting out possible new lines within hours of the census data's release on Thursday.

The growth in and around Madison will force those deeply Democratic districts to get smaller, said Joe Handrick, a former Republican lawmaker who worked with Republicans on redistricting in 2011. Population losses in Milwaukee, another Democratic stronghold, will require those districts to grow and push out from the city, he said.

There are 12 districts in between Madison and Milwaukee, the "turbulence zone," that will see the most dramatic changes, Handrick said. Changes in the rest of the state will be relatively minor by comparison, he said. In those 12 districts, 10 are held by Republicans and just two are Democrats.

Just as those population shifts will affect legislative redistricting, they will also power changes to the congressional districts.

The 2nd Congressional District, home to Madison, gained more than any other, with about 78,000 additional people. The 4th Congressional District, covering Milwaukee, lost about 15,000 people, the only one to decline in Wisconsin. Both are represented by Democrats—Pocan in the Madison area and Gwen Moore in Milwaukee.

Moore's district will need to gain about 41,000 people due to population losses.

The 8th Congressional District, covering Brown and Outagamie counties, saw the second-highest growth, adding more than 41,000 people. That district is held by Republican Mike Gallagher.

The growth in Pocan's district likely means he will lose some people to neighboring congressional districts, one held by retiring Democratic Representative Ron Kind and the other by Republican Representative Bryan Steil. President Joe Biden won Pocan's district by 40 points last year.

Pocan said he suspects Republicans will try to counter the addition of Democratic areas to both of those districts by shifting the lines elsewhere to include more GOP-friendly territory, but the options are limited. Former President Donald Trump carried both the 1st and 3rd congressional districts by single digits.

Changes in the other congressional districts where the population largely held steady will be more minor, Pocan said.

Wisconsin Voting
A lawsuit filed Friday claims that the current congressional and legislative districts in Wisconsin are unconstitutional, and asked for the maps to be redrawn should the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Governor Tony Evers be unable to reach a consensus. Above, residents wait in line to vote at a shuttered Sears store in the Janesville Mall on November 3, 2020, in Janesville, Wisconsin. Scott Olson/Getty Images