A day after a seismic ideological shift on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, a coalition of voting rights groups and left-leaning law firms filed a legal challenge to the state’s legislative districts, arguing that they were unconstitutional gerrymanders and that new maps should be drawn before the 2024 election.
The petition, filed on behalf of 19 voters in Wisconsin, comes after Justice Janet Protasiewicz was sworn in on Tuesday night, flipping the court from a 4-to-3 conservative lean to a 4-to-3 liberal tilt.
In April, Justice Protasiewicz won the most expensive state supreme court race in American history after campaigning on abortion access and arguing that the state’s legislative maps were “rigged.”
For years, Wisconsin has had some of the most aggressively drawn partisan gerrymanders in the country. Republicans have held strong majorities in both chambers of the legislature since 2011, when G.O.P. lawmakers under former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, drew maps that heavily favored the party.
The latest legal maneuver seeks to have new maps drawn by March and requests that the State Supreme Court take “original jurisdiction” of the case, meaning that it would immediately be heard by the justices and would not be referred down to district or circuit courts. If successful, it would require every Assembly seat and every Senate seat to be redrawn and elections for all of them to be held next year — including for Senate seats that are not otherwise up for re-election in 2024.
“This case is about ending the systematic silencing of voters across the state as punishment for daring to think, believe, and vote differently from a group of politicians who won a single election 13 years ago and then set out to entrench themselves into power permanently, the state’s Constitution — and the rights of its residents — be damned,” the petition states.
Should the court order new maps for Wisconsin and untangle the gerrymander, the battle for the Wisconsin legislature is likely to become one of the most closely contested in the country. The state already has a Democratic governor in place through 2026, and if the state swings Democratic in the 2024 elections, liberal activists’ dream of a blue trifecta in the critical battleground state could come closer to reality.
Redistricting, or the process of drawing new maps for congressional and state legislative districts based on population, occurs once every 10 years. But in recent years, a series of legal challenges, court decisions and statewide referendums have left many of the country’s political maps in permanent flux.
In just the past two months, both Alabama and Louisiana were ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to redraw their maps to create a second majority-Black district in each state.
Wisconsin is the latest example of how the political makeup of a state supreme court often determines whether gerrymandered maps endure or are struck down.
In North Carolina in 2021, for example, the Democratic-leaning State Supreme Court rejected a map drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature as an unconstitutional gerrymander. When the court flipped to conservative control in the 2022 midterms, the justices issued a new ruling, calling on G.O.P. legislators to return and redraw the maps, which are likely to be friendlier to Republicans.
Wisconsin’s state legislative maps have remained largely unchanged over the past decade, and their partisan tilt has been obvious in the battleground state’s tightly contested elections. In 2018, for example, Mr. Walker lost by roughly 30,000 votes, a margin of just one percentage point. But Republicans still won 63 of the 99 State Assembly districts.
The petition does not target congressional maps, though the state’s federal districts similarly favor Republicans: Wisconsin has six Republican members of the House of Representatives and just two Democratic representatives.
Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the Assembly, said in a statement that he was reviewing the petition and assessing whether it conflicted with recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
“We expect Justice Protasiewicz to recuse from this matter, given her statements and promises on the campaign trail,” Mr. Vos added.
The coalition bringing the challenge acknowledged that it was putting new legal questions and theories before the court, including whether the justices should even take up the case.
“We strongly believe it can and it should take this case on,” Jeff Mandel, a lawyer who is part of the coalition, said at a virtual news conference on Wednesday. “Failure to do so would mean that our constitutional provisions are mere hollow promises rather than declarations of individual rights as Article One of our Constitution presents them.”