Note: Hey, this one is a little different! WJI's "SCOW docket" pieces generally include decisions, dissents and concurrences all in one post. This time, with this case, we are doing it in three: First we shortcutted the decision, then the dissent, and next the concurrences. Why? Because this package of writings, and the strange U.S. Supreme Court decision that led to it, are extremely important to the state and country. Besides that, the SCOW decisions are unusually long – 142 pages, all in, not counting the cover sheets.
And instead of allowing each writing justice 10 paragraphs, we are giving each 15. Other than that, the rules remain the same. We've removed citations from the opinion for ease of reading, but have linked to important cases cited or information about them. Italics indicate WJI insertions except for case names, which also are italicized.
The case: Billie Johnson v. Wisconsin Elections Commission
Dissent: Justice Jill J. Karofsky (39 pages), joined by Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Rebecca F. Dallet
Concurrence: Justice Rebecca Grassl Bradley (49 pages), joined by Justice Patience D. Roggensack and Chief Justice Annette K. Ziegler
Concurrence: Justice Brian Hagedorn (4 pages)
Majority opinion: Ziegler (50 pages), joined by Grassl Bradley, Hagedorn, and Roggensack (See part 1)
Karofsky begins her dissent with a bit of background on the "odyssey" that led to SCOW's original decision to select redistricting maps submitted by Gov. Tony Evers. That decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned it and sent it back to SCOW, which then selected maps submitted by the Legislature.
We are careening over the waterfall because the Legislature's maps fare no better than the Governor's under the U.S. Supreme Court's rationale. If, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Governor's addition of a Milwaukee-area majority-minority district evinces a disqualifying consideration of race, then the Legislature's removal of a Milwaukee-area majority-minority district reveals an equally suspect, if not more egregious, sign of race-based line drawing. In addition, if a further-developed record is required to definitively determine whether the Governor's seventh majority Black district is required then a further-developed record is also required to definitively determine that the Legislature's removal of a majority-minority district does not violate federal law. The Court indicated that in a case like this where the court sits as the map-drawer in the first instance, the court, rather than the parties, are responsible for showing that the number of majority-minority districts required by the VRA (Voting Rights Act) constitutes the narrowly tailored remedy allowed under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. In choosing the Legislature's maps the majority repeats this court's reversible mistake by again failing to implement fact-finding procedures conducive to addressing the relevant issues under both the VRA and the Equal Protection Clause.
Karofsky briefly traces Milwaukee's history of segregation and discrimination.
The VRA's application in redistricting is designed to remedy precisely these kinds of historical wrongs – those that create current barriers to democratic participation. Instead of allowing the past unconstitutional practices of redlining and racially restrictive covenanting to continue limiting Black people's opportunity to participate in our democracy, the VRA establishes that it is a sufficiently compelling government interest to draw districts that counteract the historical racial gerrymander.
We must, of course, also consider the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. And in doing so, it is impossible to ignore the 180-degree turn from that clause's purpose to how it has been wielded in this case. Ratified in 1868 after the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment demands that no state shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Since Brown v. Board of Education, the Equal Protection Clause has been invoked to desegregate this country, protect the voting rights of its citizens, and fight discrimination in its many forms.
More recently, the Equal Protection Clause has been turned on its head and used, not to fight against the constant pull of our collective historical failing toward the promise of a better future, but to bar our government's ability to remedy past mistakes. The majority opinion perfectly captures this reversal by relying on cases pontificating that "[r]acial gerrymandering, even for remedial purposes, may balkanize us into competing racial factions," and that "[r]ace-based assignments . . . embody stereotypes that treat individuals as the product of their race[.]" This argument is nothing short of gaslighting, seemingly denying Milwaukee's history of purposeful racial segregation. It was unrelenting overt racial discrimination that balkanized Milwaukee into "competing racial factions" and reduced Black individuals to a "product of their race." The fault and responsibility to remedy this systemic segregation lies not with Milwaukee's residents but instead with the government and the society that perpetuated racial redlining and restrictive covenants. Those practices shaped Milwaukee and that history of discrimination cannot be undone by force of will alone.
The Milwaukee area perfectly demonstrates why the VRA's race-conscious remedy is often needed. Segregation of minority communities does not happen accidentally. If this country were anywhere close to living up to the "goal of a political system in which race no longer matters," then maybe we could apply the promise of Equal Protection in a race-blind manner. But the overwhelming evidence shows that we have not lived up to that goal. As such, a race-blind and effects-blind application of the Equal Protection Clause has become a sword against progress wielded by majority groups who fear giving away too much of their accumulated power. I fervently hope it will regain its place as a shield against harmful discriminatory action.
Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision, an Equal Protection analysis began with whether "race was the predominant factor motivating the [map-drawer]'s decision to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district. That entails demonstrating that the [map-drawer] 'subordinated' other factors –compactness, respect for political subdivisions, partisan advantage, what have you – to 'racial considerations.'" Yet, the Court's opinion did not first analyze whether race was the "predominant factor" motivating this court's districting decisions. Instead, it appeared that the Court took this court's limited analysis regarding the VRA, meant only to ensure the least-change map did not violate that law, as evidence that race – not least change – predominated our choice of maps. Our March 3 opinion never professed as much.
While the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion said it was unclear whether this court viewed itself or the Governor as the map-drawer, we plainly stated that the court itself was the map-drawer. ("As a map-drawer, we understand our duty is to determine whether there are 'good reasons' to believe the VRA requires a seven-district configuration.")
Despite our clear declaration that "least change" predominated our choice of maps, and despite the purported purpose of "least change" as a neutral criterion to shed ourselves of the political baggage that would be inherent in party-drawn maps, the Court nonetheless transposed the Governor's motivations onto this court. We are left to conclude that the motivations of the party submitting the map are the relevant motivations we must analyze going forward. This court can no longer hide behind a "least change" gloss to ignore a party's ulterior motives.
The U.S. Supreme Court left us with other unanswered questions:
In light of these uncertainties, and in order to avoid further reversible error, I believe we must implement one of the first three options set out above: (1) invite further briefing and fact finding on the unsettled VRA questions; (2) invite an expert or the parties to submit redrawn, race-neutral maps for the Milwaukee area; or (3) invite an expert or the parties to submit a whole new, reliably-race-neutral map.
The majority opinion attempts to shift the blame by noting that the parties stipulated through their joint discovery plan that they did not anticipate discovery "beyond the exchange of maps, expert disclosures, and any documents or data that a party intends to rely upon or an expert has relied upon." But we had the authority, indeed the responsibility, to direct further discovery or examination of expert witnesses. This court's initial reliance on the joint discovery plan was guided by the court's "least change" directive, which failed to account for the full and definitive Equal Protection or VRA inquiry the U.S. Supreme Court now demands. This persistent imprudence in developing a record has now led us to a legally untenable outcome at odds with the Court's directive. The Equal Protection and VRA claims usually litigated after the implementation of a remedial map must now be fully adjudicated as part of this decision – an impossible task on this record.
The Legislature's maps fail for two reasons: first, we are not to act as a gubernatorial veto override body; and second, the Legislature's maps show evidence of racially motivated packing and cracking that could violate both the Equal Protection Clause and the VRA.
The Legislature's maps derive from a failed political process. In Wisconsin, the redistricting process follows the same process as the enactment of any law. Both houses of the legislature must pass a bill containing new maps, which is then presented to the governor who may approve or veto the bill, the latter of which the legislature may override with a supermajority vote. Here, the Legislature, having failed to override the gubernatorial veto, submitted the very same proposal to us. By now implementing that failed bill, this court judicially overrides the Governor's veto, thus nullifying the will of the Wisconsin voters who elected that governor into office. But our constitution provides only one avenue to override such a veto; no judicial override textually exists. Nor, historically, has this court ever exercised such a supreme power. By judicially enacting the very bill that failed the political process, a bare majority of this court, rather than a supermajority of the legislature, has taken the unprecedented step of removing the process of lawmaking from its constitutional confines and overriding a governor's veto ourselves.
More recently, the Equal Protection Clause has been turned on its head and used, not to fight against the constant pull of our collective historical failing toward the promise of a better future, but to bar our government's ability to remedy past mistakes. - Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jill J. Karofsky
In addition to being derived from a failed political process, the Legislature's maps show signs of violating the Equal Protection Clause. If, as the U.S. Supreme Court explained, the Governor's addition of a majority-minority district sufficed to show that race predominated its proposal, then equally, if not more, suspect is the Legislature's removal of a majority-minority district. Despite the majority opinion's assertions, the Legislature's maps do not appear to be race-neutral and calling the claim "indisputable" does not make it so. The Legislature's claim that it drew its maps without considering race, quite frankly, flies in the face of its transfiguration of Milwaukee's six current districts with a Black voting age population (BVAP) majority. In Milwaukee, the BVAP increased 5.5 percent while the White voting age population decreased 9.5 percent over the last decade. Those demographic changes make the Legislature's draw down of BVAP percentage in five out of six VRA districts – one by over 12 percent – with the remaining VRA district packed at 73.3 percent BVAP highly suspicious.
Self-serving professions of race-neutrality should also be ignored because the Legislature offered no alternative reasons for making decisions regarding Milwaukee's districts. The Legislature's "least change" pretext fails when it openly admits its Milwaukee-area changes substantially differed from its treatment of the rest of the state. Nor can the Legislature justify its unique redrawing of Milwaukee districts on a desire to keep municipalities whole; it split at least one relevant village, Brown Deer, by dividing its Black population between two districts. Respecting "communities of interest" also fails to justify the Legislature's actions because no party submitted evidence establishing such communities. That leaves the more nefarious partisan advantage reasoning – a reliable pretext for racial motivations. But a neutral judicial body cannot adopt a map on such a justification, especially now that the party's motives are imputed onto the court. The Legislature also has not, and could not, claim such a justification as this court barred consideration of partisanship in our redistricting process. As such, no judicially acceptable justification for the Legislature's Milwaukee-area redistricting decisions exists.
This has been a profoundly disheartening odyssey. The unavoidable political nature of remedial redistricting plagued us every step of the way. Too rarely did this process present true questions of law – this court's only area of expertise. At every change in the tide, this court seemed to choose what it hoped to be a short-cut to streamline our voyage, only to find ourselves lost and unable to do our work as a non-partisan court of law. But the redistricting process is likely to stalemate and come before this court again in the future. And when it does, I hope that we have learned our lesson. I hope that we will permit a politically insulated federal court to manage the task. Federal courts are better able to conduct extensive factfinding through trial-style litigation, a task for which we proved ill equipped.
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