Wisconsin faces permanent one party rule of legislature

One political party has taken firm control of the Wisconsin legislature, and it appears that control may be made permanent by the state’s supreme court. If we value the representative democracy established by our state and federal constitutions, we need to demand an end to partisan gerrymandering. It is becoming clear that the courts are reluctant to stand up for democracy, so we must.

Legislative redistricting takes place every ten years, following the census. In 2011, the party that controlled the Wisconsin legislature passed perhaps the most extreme partisan legislative redistricting law in the country. Although the partisan gerrymander was ruled unconstitutional by a federal district court, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled them. The Supreme Court held that it would not get involved in state redistricting, and so allowed the partisan gerrymander to remain in effect.

In the decade that followed, the gerrymandering party never came close to losing control of either the state senate or the state assembly. Even when the other party got more votes statewide, there was no significant change in the number of seats held by the gerrymandering party, meaning the voters suffered minority rule.

Following the 2020 census, the party that controlled the Wisconsin legislature passed a new redistricting law calculated to ensure their control for another ten years. The governor, who this time was from the opposing political party, vetoed the legislation. The matter then went to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which has indicated it would draw maps that deviate as little as possible from the partisan maps drawn by the gerrymandering legislature.

If the state’s supreme court follows through on its plan, the effect will be to allow permanent, gerrymandered control of the Wisconsin Legislature by one political party.  If, after a future census, that party’s redistricting maps are vetoed by a future governor, the court’s 2022 decision will serve as precedent that the court should deviate as little as possible from the partisan gerrymander.

Permanent one-party control of a legislature is something we are used to seeing in Russia or China. It is, however, not democracy. Partisan gerrymandering’s only purpose is to undermine representative democracy.

What can be done?

If the federal Freedom to Vote Act is passed, it would ban partisan gerrymandering. Our legislators – both federal and state – must hear us take a stand to preserve democracy with passage of the Freedom to Vote Act and nonpartisan redistricting laws. Additionally, those fighting partisan gerrymandering are gathering at rallies around the state at noon on Friday, January 21st to let the state supreme court know we care about this. In Wausau, pro-democracy demonstrators will gather at the 400 Block. Please take advantage of this opportunity to stand up for democracy.