Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker accused former President Barack Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder of attempting to engage in partisan gerrymandering to place Democrats in “permanent control” of the country. In fact, Walker is involved with a Republican redistricting group that supports partisan gerrymandering -- when the majority party in a state legislature redraws voting districts to its own numerical advantage -- while Holder is involved in a redistricting group that opposes such efforts.
Since losing his bid for a third term as governor, Walker has turned to conservative punditry with a podcast titled You Can’t Recall Courage -- a reference to when Walker survived a 2012 recall election after he led a massive union-busting initiative. He is also the finance chair for the National Republican Redistricting Trust (NRRT), which Politico described as “the GOP’s data and legal hub preparing for redistricting after the next census” in 2020.
Holder is also involved in redistricting efforts through his work as chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), which merged with Obama’s nonprofit Organizing for Action in 2018.
During the August 9 broadcast of You Can’t Recall Courage, Walker talked about a recent meeting of the National Conference of State Legislators where he spoke about gerrymandering, the NRRT, and the NDRC. He said he talked to the group about balanced budgets and about “something I mentioned before but bears repeating, and that is that Eric Holder, with the help of Barack Obama, raising millions of dollars -- literally over $250 million has been raised in their efforts to try and gerrymander Democrats into permanent control.” Walker continued, “They keep claiming they are about fighting the gerrymandering except for the fact that you look at states like Maryland which has some of the worst gerrymandered legislative districts, particularly in Congress.”
While Republicans are much more often involved in partisan gerrymandering than Democrats, Maryland is a prominent example of Democrats engaging in such practice. However, Walker’s comment misleadingly suggests that Holder was involved in Maryland’s gerrymandering. He wasn’t -- that was done by the Maryland state legislature. On the other hand, Walker himself has been personally involved in the practice: As Wisconsin governor in 2011, Walker signed into law a partisan gerrymandering bill that gave Republicans an advantage in the upcoming 2012 elections.
In his August 9 episode, Walker also claimed that “certainly Eric Holder doesn’t come out and speak out in instances” like Maryland where districts are unfairly drawn. Except he has. On July 4, Holder published an opinion piece in The Washington Post criticizing the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that the court has no jurisdiction over legal challenges to partisan gerrymandering. In his piece, Holder wrote, “As Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her powerful and prescient dissent, the partisan gerrymanders in Maryland and North Carolina ‘debased and dishonored our democracy, turning upside-down the core American idea that all governmental power derives from the people.’”
To get a sense of how Walker’s and Holder’s groups actually differ on partisan gerrymandering, look at Pennsylvania. In 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a 2011 districting map authored by Republicans was a partisan gerrymander which violated the state constitution. The state Supreme Court gave the legislature an opportunity to redraw a fair map, but it was unable to do so. The court then redrew the map with the help of a nonpartisan redistricting expert.
But litigation continued after the map was redrawn, with NDRC -- Holder’s group-- eventually asking a federal court to intervene to “defend the validity of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s nonpartisan, remedial congressional districting map.” Speaking in support of the NDRC intervention motion, Holder said, “By fighting against a fair map drawn by an independent court, Republicans have shown they are afraid of the very voters they claim they want to represent.” The court denied the request, but it did allow NDRC to submit an amicus brief arguing that Republicans’ suit to get rid of the new map lacked standing to do so in federal court.
Meanwhile, the Springfield News-Leader reported that NRRT -- Walker’s group -- had partly funded an amicus brief that argued that the U.S. Supreme Court should order that the gerrymandered map struck down by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court be used in the 2018 elections. In other words, Walker’s comments on You Can’t Recall Courage about the evils of partisan gerrymandering and taking “permanent control” are actually a good description of what he and his group are doing, not of the NDRC’s agenda.
Walker previously attempted to tout the supposed fairness of Wisconsin’s 2018 State Assembly elections in a back-and-forth with Holder on Twitter hours after the Supreme Court’s decision was released in June. In the election, Democrats captured just 36 of 99 seats despite winning 54% of votes statewide -- a result caused by rampant Republican gerrymandering.
Walker has continued to defend Republican partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin on You Can’t Recall Courage, actually admitting that he believes it’s wrong to say that “a vote in Madison” -- a reliably liberal city -- “counts the same as a vote in a very rural community or in a suburban community.”