Wis. Lawmakers Ordered to Redraw Election Maps

MADISON, Wis. (CN) – Though the unconstitutional map that helped win them the past several elections has been thrown out, Wisconsin Republicans will have another shot at drawing district lines, a panel of federal judges ruled Friday.

Seventh Circuit Judge Kenneth Ripple, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb and Chief U.S. District Judge William Griesbach gave the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature until Nov. 1 to submit a plan that conforms with the panel’s order from two months ago, which scoffed at the idea that the secretly created and hastily enacted district map was without partisan bias.

Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel has appealed the 2-1 November decision – authored by Ripple, a Reagan appointee – finding the map unconstitutional. Appeals in redistricting cases go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court for review.

Twelve Democratic voters filed the underlying federal civil rights lawsuit in July 2015 against state election authorities, alleging Republicans met in secret to create a redistricting plan giving them an unfair advantage, which they then rushed through the Legislature.

The state’s attempts to get the lawsuit thrown out were unsuccessful, and the case was ultimately heard by the panel last May.

The plaintiffs, backed by various organizations including the Chicago-based Campaign Legal Center, argued the state should not have another chance to draft what may end up being another unconstitutional map.

If the federal court does allow the Republican-controlled Legislature to take another crack at it, it should set “detailed instructions” to ensure the state’s voters are protected, the plaintiffs argued.

The Western Wisconsin federal court, however, was loath to interfere in what it deemed a matter of state law.

“Although the state actors in this case certainly intended the partisan effect that they in fact produced, the record does not permit us to ascribe to them an unwillingness to adhere to an order of this Court or to conform the allocation of seats in the state legislature to constitutional requirements,” the panel wrote in an opinion released Friday.

The court called the deadline issue “a question for which there are only imperfect answers.”

While the plaintiffs argued past cases advocate for a “strict deadline” of April 1, the state would rather the court wait until the Supreme Court rules on the case. But the state’s suggestion may ultimately lead to further constitutional violations, the panel found.

“Under the prevailing view in this Court, the people of Wisconsin already have endured several elections under an unconstitutional reapportionment scheme,” the ruling states. “If they are to be spared another such event, a new map must be drawn in time for the preparatory steps leading up to the [2018] election.”

The Nov. 1 deadline is contingent on the Supreme Court upholding the panel’s decision, the court added, stating it will not stay the decision pending appeal, as the state requested.

Gerry Hebert, the Campaign Legal Center’s director of voting rights and redistricting, said in an emailed statement that the center and the plaintiffs will remain involved in the process to ensure the new map is fairly drawn.

“The Wisconsin legislature has continuously demonstrated a disregard for the rights of the voters and an inability to craft a fair, legal redistricting plan,” Hebert said. “In drawing a new plan, the legislature must put voters first, not partisan politics.”

But AG Schimel’s Department of Justice is not taking the order and deadline lying down.

“We are reviewing the Court’s order, but we expect to file an appeal with the Supreme Court and seek prompt reversal of this decision,” DOJ spokesperson Johnny Koremenos wrote in an email Monday morning.

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