Wendy Sue Johnson can look out her bedroom window in the 91st Assembly District and see across her side yard into the 68th District. Her house was in the 68th until Wisconsin lawmakers redrew state legislative borders in 2011. Republicans, who had just won control of the Legislature, rearranged districts that year to maximize the number of seats their party would win. It worked. In 2012, Republican candidates collected 48.6 percent of all votes cast in Assembly elections, but they won 60 of 99 Assembly seats. Johnson is among 12 Democratic plaintiffs who challenged the constitutionality of the new map. A federal court agreed with them in November. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the Wisconsin case in October, setting the stage for historic changes to a bedrock political process and the balance of power in state capitals.
“It’s very important not just for Wisconsin, but for districts around the country — including Minnesota,” said Justin Levitt, a professor at Los Angeles’ Loyola Law School. “One way or another, this will change the rules.”
All states draw new legislative and congressional boundaries the year after the decennial census. It’s called gerrymandering when the process results in oddly shaped districts meant to give one political party a lopsided advantage.
In a time of deepening divisions across the nation, this arcane yet high-stakes procedure is getting new scrutiny from courts — and from those who want to diminish political hostility and dysfunction.