The following is the statement by CJ Szafir in front of the Wisconsin Supreme Court during testimony Thursday on the role of the court in Wisconsin’s upcoming redistricting process following the 2020 census.
Good morning Justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court,
My name is CJ Szafir, President of the Institute for Reforming Government. IRG’s mission is to reform government to make it more responsive to citizens. I am here today to ask the Court to approve the proposed rule so Wisconsin citizens can be sure that the redistricting process in our state will be handled by the relevant branches of the state, and not the federal, government. Such action by the Court is appropriate and necessary.
First, some say that because redistricting is a partisan exercise, this Court should not be involved. But that would be an abdication of the state’s judicial power as vested in this Court under the Wisconsin Constitution. The Court’s duty, when adjudicating redistricting issues, is to vindicate constitutional and statutory rights just – as it does in any other case including those with political overtones.
If the Court restricts itself to simply adjusting the current map to remedy constitutional and statutory deficiencies, the resulting map will reflect the Court’s judgment of what the law requires as opposed to political considerations. In doing so, the Court’s members will honor the judicial oath to administer justice without respect to persons and to faithfully and impartially discharge the Court’s duties to the best of each member’s ability.
There is no reason for anyone to believe that this Court cannot or will not handle redistricting litigation faithfully and impartially just as it has handled all of the many controversies that have come before it in the past.
Secondly, it is necessary that this Court take such cases under its original action jurisdiction rather than have them go through a Circuit Court first because of the severe time constraints involved. While different facts come into play each time the census is completed I will just review the timing issues following the 2020 census.
We know that the census results have been delayed. The Congressional apportionment counts were due by December 31, 2020 but the Census Bureau did not produce them by that deadline. Because of data irregularities, according to the AP this week, “the earliest date the apportionment numbers will be ready is March 6.” But that deadline is far from assured and no one has said when the data needed for the Legislature to draw maps for the State Assembly and State Senate will be available. They are supposed to be done by March 31, 2021 (although they can be delivered earlier) but it is not clear if the factors causing the delay on the congressional apportionment results will also cause a delay of the state data.
The Legislature cannot start on new maps until the Census Bureau delivers the new census data to the states. If the Census Bureau meets its existing deadline that would mean the earliest the Legislature could start would be April 2021. The question is how long it will take to finish.
- The redistricting maps after the 1990 census were not completed by the Legislature until April 14, 1992.
- After the 2000 census, each house of the Legislature approved its own map on March 7, 2002 but neither house acted on the other’s proposed map.
- After the 2010 census, the Legislature approved maps on July 19, 2011.
After the last three censuses the Legislature produced new maps in April 1992, March 2002 and July 2011. The July 2011 result was in a situation where the Legislative and Executive branches were controlled by the same party. The previous two occasions (both of which took much longer) were in situations of divided government.
Based on earlier timelines, the earliest one could anticipate new maps would be July 2021 but much later in 2021 is more realistic, especially given the delays in getting the 2020 census results. This likely puts us into September or even October 2021.
There is substantial pressure on the back end for a smooth process for the 2022 elections. Under current law, candidates will begin circulating nomination papers for the 2022 fall elections on April 15, 2022. So any redistricting litigation must be resolved prior to April 15, 2022. That means all litigation relating to the maps will have to occur between say October 2021 and April, 15, 2022. That would be an extremely difficult time frame for both a circuit court action and to complete Supreme Court review.
As such, the only way to practically accomplish what needs to be accomplished is through an original action.
Thank you for your time this morning.
CJ Szafir is the president of the Institute for Reforming Government, a think tank based in Madison, WI.