Johnson v. Wis. Elections Comm'n

Decision Date30 November 2021
Docket NumberNo. 2021AP1450-OA,2021AP1450-OA
Parties Billie JOHNSON, Eric O'Keefe, Ed Perkins and Ronald Zahn, Petitioners, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, Voces de la Frontera, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Cindy Fallona, Lauren Stephenson, Rebecca Alwin, Congressman Glenn Grothman, Congressman Mike Gallagher, Congressman Bryan Steil, Congressman Tom Tiffany, Congressman Scott Fitzgerald, Lisa Hunter, Jacob Zabel, Jennifer Oh, John Persa, Geraldine Schertz, Kathleen Qualheim, Gary Krenz, Sarah J. Hamilton, Stephen Joseph Wright, Jean-Luc Thiffeault, and Somesh Jha, Intervenors-Petitioners, v. WISCONSIN ELECTIONS COMMISSION, Marge Bostelmann in her official capacity as a member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Julie Glancey in her official capacity as a member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Ann Jacobs in her official capacity as a member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Dean Knudson in his official capacity as a member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Robert Spindell, Jr. in his official capacity as a member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, and Mark Thomsen in his official capacity as a member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Respondents, The Wisconsin Legislature, Governor Tony Evers, in his official capacity, and Janet Bewley Senate Democratic Minority Leader, on behalf of the Senate Democratic Caucus, Intervenors-Respondents.
CourtWisconsin Supreme Court

For the petitioners, there were briefs filed by Richard M. Esenberg, Anthony F. LoCoco, Lucas T. Vebber and Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, Milwaukee.

For the intervenors-petitioners Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, Voces de la Frontera, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Cindy Fallona, Lauren Stephenson and Rebecca Alwin, briefs, including amicus briefs, were filed by Douglas M. Poland, Jeffrey A. Mandell, Rachel E. Snyder, Richard A. Manthe, Carly Gerads and Stafford Rosenbaum LLP, Madison; Mel Barnes and Law Forward, Inc., Madison; Mark P. Gaber (pro hac vice), Christopher Lamar (pro hac vice)and Campaign Legal Center, Washington, D.C.; Annabelle Harless (pro hac vice) and Campaign Legal Center, Chicago.

For the intervenors-petitioners Congressmen Glenn Grothman, Mike Gallagher, Bryan Steil, Tom Tiffany and Scott Fitzgerald there were briefs, including amicus briefs, filed by Misha Tseytlin, Kevin M. LeRoy, and Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP, Chicago.

For the intervenors-petitioners Lisa Hunter, Jacob Zabel, Jennifer Oh, John Persa, Geraldine Schertz and Kathleen Qualheim, there were briefs, including amicus briefs filed by Charles G. Curtis, Jr. and Perkins Coie LLP, Madison; Marc Erik Elias (pro hac vice), Aria C. Branch (pro hac vice), Daniel C. Osher (pro hac vice), Jacob D. Shelly (pro hac vice), Christina A. Ford (pro hac vice), William K. Hancock (pro hac vice) and Elias Law Group LLP, Washington, D.C.

For the intervenors-petitioners Citizens Mathematicians and Scientists Gary Krenz, Sarah J. Hamilton, Stephen Joseph Wright, Jean-Luc Thiffeault and Somesh Jha, briefs were filed by Michael P. May, Sarah A. Zylstra, Tanner G. Jean-Louis and Boardman & Clark LLP, Madison, and David J. Bradford (pro hac vice) and Jenner & Block LLP, Chicago.

For the respondents Wisconsin Elections Commission, Marge Bostelmann, Julie Glancey, Ann Jacobs, Dean Knudson, Robert Spindell, Jr. and Mark Thomsen there were letter-briefs filed by Steven C. Kilpatrick, assistant attorney general, Karla Z. Keckhaver, assistant attorney general, Thomas C. Bellavia, assistant attorney general.

For the intervenors-respondents the Wisconsin Legislature there were briefs filed by Kevin M. St. John and Bell Giftos St. John LLC, Madison; Jeffrey M. Harris (pro hac vice), Taylor A.R. Meehan (pro hac vice), James P. McGlone and Consovoy McCarthy PLLC, Arlington, Virginia and Adam K. Mortara and Lawfair LLC, Chicago.

For the intervenor-respondent Governor Tony Evers there were briefs filed by Joshua L. Kaul, attorney general, Anthony D. Russomanno, assistant attorney general and Brian P. Keenan, assistant attorney general.

For the intervenor-respondent Janet Bewley, State Senate Democratic Minority Leader on behalf of the State Senate Democratic Caucus there were briefs filed by Tamara B. Packard, Aaron G. Dumas and Pines Bach LLP, Madison.

There was an amicus brief filed by Daniel R. Suhr, Thiensville.

REBECCA GRASSL BRADLEY, J., delivered the majority opinion of the Court with respect to all parts except ¶¶8, 69-72, and 81, in which ZIEGLER, C.J., and ROGGENSACK, and HAGEDORN, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to ¶¶8, 69–72, and 81, in which ZIEGLER, C.J., and ROGGENSACK, J., joined. HAGEDORN, J., filed a concurring opinion. DALLET, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which ANN WALSH BRADLEY and KAROFSKY, JJ., joined.

REBECCA GRASSL BRADLEY, J.

¶1 The Wisconsin Constitution requires the legislature "to apportion and district anew the members of the senate and assembly, according to the number of inhabitants" after each census conducted under the United States Constitution every ten years. Wis. Const. art. IV, § 3. In fulfilling this responsibility, the legislature draws maps reflecting the legislative districts across the state. Every census invariably reveals population changes within legislative districts, and the legislature must thereafter satisfy the constitutional requirement that each district contain approximately equal numbers of people by developing new maps, which are subject to veto by the governor. When this occurs, courts are often asked to step in and draw the maps.

¶2 This year, the legislature drew maps, the governor vetoed them, and all parties agree the existing maps, enacted into law in 2011, are now unconstitutional because shifts in Wisconsin's population around the state have disturbed the constitutionally guaranteed equality of the people's representation in the state legislature and in the United States House of Representatives. We have been asked to provide a remedy for that inequality. Some parties to this action further complain that the 2011 maps reflect a partisan gerrymander favoring Republican Party candidates at the expense of Democrat Party candidates, and ask us to redraw the maps to allocate districts equally between these dominant parties, although no one asks us to assign districts to any minor parties in proportion to their share of Wisconsin's electoral vote.

¶3 The United States Supreme Court recently declared there are no legal standards by which judges may decide whether maps are politically "fair." Rucho v. Common Cause, ––– U.S. ––––, 139 S. Ct. 2484, 2499-500, 204 L.Ed.2d 931 (2019). We agree. The Wisconsin Constitution requires the legislature—a political body—to establish the legislative districts in this state. Just as the laws enacted by the legislature reflect policy choices, so will the maps drawn by that political body. Nothing in the constitution empowers this court to second-guess those policy choices, and nothing in the constitution vests this court with the power of the legislature to enact new maps. Our role in redistricting remains a purely judicial one, which limits us to declaring what the law is and affording the parties a remedy for its violation.

¶4 In this case, the maps drawn in 2011 were enacted by the legislature and signed into law by the governor. Their lawfulness was challenged in a federal court, which upheld them (subject to a slight adjustment to Assembly Districts 8 and 9 in order to comply with federal law).

Baldus v. Members of Wis. Gov't Accountability Bd., 862 F. Supp. 2d 860, 863 (E.D. Wis. 2012). In 2021, those maps no longer comply with the constitutional requirement of an equal number of citizens in each legislative district, due to shifts in population across the state. This court will remedy that malapportionment, while ensuring the maps satisfy all other constitutional and statutory requirements. Claims of political unfairness in the maps present political questions, not legal ones. Such claims have no basis in the constitution or any other law and therefore must be resolved through the political process and not by the judiciary.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND HOLDING

¶5 Billie Johnson et al., four Wisconsin voters ("Wisconsin voters"), filed a petition for leave to commence an original action in this court following the release of the results of the 2020 census. Claiming to live in malapportioned congressional and state legislative districts, they have asked us to declare the existing maps—codified in Chapters 3 and 4 of the Wisconsin Statutes—violate the "one person, one vote" principle embodied in Article IV, Section 3 of the Wisconsin Constitution. They also have asked us to enjoin the respondents, the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) and its members in their official capacity, from administering congressional and state legislative elections until the political branches adopt redistricting plans meeting the requirements of Article IV. Because the legislature and the governor reached an impasse, the Wisconsin voters request a mandatory injunction,1 remedying what all parties agree are unconstitutional plans by making only those changes necessary for the maps to comport with the one person, one vote principle while satisfying other constitutional and statutory mandates (a "least-change" approach).

¶6 We granted the petition and permitted the legislature, the governor, and several other parties to intervene. The intervenors raised numerous issues of federal and state law. In addition to the requirements of Article IV of the Wisconsin Constitution, we have been asked to consider the following laws in shaping any judicial remedy for the malapportioned congressional and state legislative districts: (1) Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution; (2) the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution; (3) the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965;2 and (...

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    ...exhibit minimal changes to the existing maps, in accordance with the least change approach we adopted in Johnson v. Wis. Elections Comm'n, 2021 WI 87, 399 Wis. 2d 623, 967 N.W.2d 469. Therefore, we adopt the state senate and assembly maps proposed by the Legislature for the State of Wiscons......
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    ...and reasonably, to avoid absurd or unreasonable results." Id., ¶46. ¶12 We interpret the Wisconsin Constitution de novo. Johnson v. Wis. Elections Comm'n, 2021 WI 87, ¶22, 399 Wis. 2d 623, 967 N.W.2d 469. "Our goal when we interpret the Wisconsin Constitution is to give effect to the intent......
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