Wisconsin’s Redistricting Plan

In recent weeks, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz and her statements during the recent spring election campaign have made national headlines. During the campaign, Justice Protasiewicz stated in a TV interview: “When we say the maps are rigged, those maps are rigged. I don’t think you could sell to any reasonable person after they know the facts any other conclusion.”

The Justice has a first amendment right to express opinions and beliefs, and voters have a right to know these beliefs. But the Justice also has an obligation to recuse herself when these statements have created a probability of bias. If a judge or candidate runs for election, reads a newspaper article about someone accused of murder, and says in public the person is guilty, no one would expect that same judge to provide a fair and impartial trial to the person accused.

Yet that is exactly the situation that Justice Protasiewicz has created. Part of the Wisconsin Judicial Code prohibits a candidate for judicial office from making statements that commit the candidate regarding cases, controversies, or issues likely to come before the court. And the U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision joined by liberal justices Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, stated that judicial recusal is required when there is a probability of bias.

I am confident the Justice will do the right thing and recuse herself from a case she has already predetermined. Just days after Justice Protasiewicz took office, a lawsuit challenging the legislative maps in Wisconsin was filed by liberal law firms seeking to throw out the maps that have been found constitutional by both the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court. If this lawsuit continues, it could cost taxpayers well over $1 million in legal fees, upend the timing of deadlines leading up to the November 2024 election, and continue to fuel the partisan vitriol that so many of my constituents have told me they disdain.

But there is a compromise to be had here, one that would eliminate the need for the justice’s recusal by making the current lawsuit unnecessary, and create a bipartisan solution with a proposal that my Republican colleagues have been working on and Democrats have endorsed for over a decade: a non-partisan redistricting commission.

In retrospect, prior to the 2010 census, Democrats had full control of the governor’s office and both houses in the Wisconsin legislature. In the same manner, Republicans had full control in Madison before the 2020 census. Considering all the infighting over the years, both parties missed an opportunity to rectify the situation and develop a non-partisan system for redistricting similar to the Iowa Model for Fair Maps.

This week, I joined my Assembly colleagues in proposing a non-partisan redistricting advisory commission to oversee drawing Wisconsin’s legislative maps. Under this proposal, the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau would draw new legislative maps for the upcoming 2024 election and would require the approval of both the legislature and the governor.

This process has been used in Iowa for a number of years, and Democrats have advocated for this approach. Governor Evers even included it in his proposed state budget in 2019, and 52 of the 72 counties including Waupaca County have passed resolutions calling for this Iowa model to be adopted in Wisconsin.

The time is right for a non-partisan redistricting in Wisconsin. I hope the legislative Democrats and Governor Evers will join my colleagues and me in enacting a bipartisan plan that all Wisconsinites can get behind for years to come.