Simple — just follow the law
We have a perfect solution how to come up with new assembly, senate and congressional districts in Wisconsin following the 2020 Census. It is for the legislature to follow the state constitution.
Article IV of the Wisconsin Constitution says the state legislature shall create assembly and senate districts: “To be bounded by county, precinct, town or ward lines, to consist of contiguous territory and be in as compact form as practicable.”
Compact as practicable means districts will be box shaped, much like counties. They will respect municipal borders.
Such districts will not be like what we have now. They will not be like the 69th Assembly District that jogs across three counties, wriggles into part of Marshfield, and looks like a man sitting in a La-Z-Boy recliner. Nor will they resemble the 86th Assembly District that straddles two counties and resembles a roaring Tyrannosaurus Rex. Nor will they look like the 85th Assembly District that conjures up a mental image of a strutting turkey with a wattle.
A computer could create these compact districts in the blink of an eye. The machine would create uniform boxes across the state. Done.
But there are those who aren’t interested in a perfect solution to Wisconsin redistricting. Instead, they want to continue the gerrymandered disaster we have now.
Enter former Assembly Majority Leader Scott Jensen, a Republican, and the archconservative Wisconsin Institute for Liberty and Law. These parties in June petitioned the Wisconsin Supreme Court to claim jurisdiction over redistricting such that next year, after Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, rejects a redistricting map approved by the Republican controlled assembly and senate, it will be the conservative-controlled high court, not a federal appellate court, that will draw Wisconsin legislative district lines for the next 10 years.
For Jensen, this is a second kick at the cat. Back in 2002, he, serving as GOP assembly leader, petitioned the court to take jurisdiction over redistricting. At that time, the high court, while agreeing that setting district lines was a state, not federal responsibility, declined Jensen’s request, saying that it had no expertise or capability to create legislative districts.
Jernsen’s new request comes after the U.S. Supreme Court in a 2018 case, Benisek v. Lamone, voted 5-4 to say that the federal courts have no role in untangling a state’s gerrymandered districts, no matter how politically ugly the districts are.
It may happen that Jensen’s scheme will pay off, but we hope not.
You’ve reached the darkest pit of hellish cynicism to try and get a state supreme court majority to act like a second legislature and enact a gerrymandered redistricting map, knowing that such skullduggery would be shielded both against a governor’s veto and review by the courts. The craven deed would be further blackened by the fact that such a map violates the simple and plain language of the state constitution, which every judge has sworn an oath to uphold and protect. A court created legislative map would put on public display the bottomless depravity of “conservative” justices. They would create law after promising voters, as a first principle, that they only interpret the law.
The Jensen scheme would protect the current Republican advantage in legislative redistricting by ending constitutional government in Wisconsin. Not a happy day.
But none of this has to be. It only requires Republicans in the state legislature to read the words in the state constitution, remember their oath to uphold the constitution and, instead of creating districts that resemble furniture, dinosaurs or poultry, draw up little boxes. The Republican legislature need only do the fair thing, the right thing and the thing supported, according to polling, by 70 percent of the Wisconsin public.