Democracy has taken very hard hits in the first days of the Trump interregnum, as Donald Trump and the mandarins of his “alternative-fact” administration have spun fantasies about “voter fraud” that clearly does not exist; obsessed about the dubious legitimacy of a president who lost the popular vote and drew a disappointing crowd for his inauguration; and attacked the free and skeptical press that provides an essential underpinning for the open discourse that sustains popular sovereignty.
But sometimes democracy wins out—in a way that could transform our politics and our governance.
Nothing has so sustained and advanced Republican dominance of the states (and of the US House of Representatives) as the gerrymandering of legislative and congressional district lines by Republican politicians who have used their overarching control of state-based redistricting processes to warp electoral competition in their favor. And few states have seen such radical gerrymandering as Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, where the governor and his allies skewed district lines so seriously that clearly contested state legislative races have become a rarity in much of a state that national elections suggest is evenly divided.
Wisconsin’s gerrymandering was so extreme that, two months ago, a federal-court panel struck down Wisconsin legislative maps as unconstitutional. Walker’s Republican state attorney general appealed immediately, setting up a fight that will eventually be resolved by a US Supreme Court that legal experts say may finally be prepared to rule on behalf of competitive elections.
Walker and his Republican allies, desperate to maintain their unfair advantage, asked the three-judge federal panel to delay implementation of its ruling as the appeals process goes forward.
But on Friday the judges refused to delay democracy any longer.
In a decision that was hailed as a significant victory for democracy in Wisconsin and nationally, the federal panel enjoined Wisconsin officials from using existing maps in “all future elections.” At the same time, the judges ordered Walker and the state legislature to draw new legislative-district maps by November 1, 2017.
The new maps are to be used in November 2018, when Walker, the entire state assembly, and half of the state senate will be up for election.
“The decision by the federal court to require new redistricting maps by November 1, 2017 is great news for Wisconsin. Voters should always pick their elected officials instead of elected officials picking them. I hope that legislative Republicans are more competent with their second chance,” said Democratic State Senator Mark Miller, the former majority leader of the Wisconsin Senate. “In our democracy, people have the right to hold their government accountable in fair, competitive elections—I am pleased that power should finally be returned to the people of Wisconsin.”