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Judges Demand New Districts for Milwaukee Latinos

MILWAUKEE (CN) - Finding "almost laughable" Republican claims that newly drawn electoral districts were not influenced by partisan factors, a panel of three federal judges unanimously ruled that new maps for two districts on Milwaukee's south side violate the Voting Rights Act and dilute Latinos' voting power.

The judges enjoined the state's Government Accountability Board from implementing Act 43 as it stands, but Wisconsin's 130 other newly drawn districts are expected to stay the same.

Act 43 concerned redistricting of state legislative districts.

Wisconsin Act 44 affected congressional redistricting, and Act 39 permitted the Legislature to draw new districts before Wisconsin's municipalities drew or redrew their ward lines based on the 2010 Census.

Voces de la Frontera and Latino community members filed a federal complaint that was consolidated with an earlier lawsuit filed by other Wisconsin voters.

Both groups claimed the Legislature violated the Voting Rights Act by dividing Latinos into two Assembly districts.

They said the split would dilute the power of Latino voters in the two districts and force them to wait 6 years to vote in state Senate elections, instead of the usual 4.

The three-judge panel agreed, finding that "representative democracy cannot be achieved merely by assuring population equality across districts."

They judges called the Republican drafters' testimony that they were not influenced by partisan factors "almost laughable."

The judges called the redistricting a "radical reconfiguration" and said, "the evidence shows that the new lines for Districts 8 and 9 will be disruptive to the Latino community of interest."

They added: "we cannot turn a blind eye to this evidence, which supports the need for a functioning majority-minority district for Milwaukee's Latino community, not just one or two influence districts."

The panel harshly criticized the Republicans' secretive tactics. According to the ruling, after Gov. Scott Walker was sworn in, "the very next day the Republican legislative leadership announced to members of the Democratic minority that the Republicans would be provided unlimited funds to hire counsel and consultants for the purposes of legislative redistricting. They informed the Democrats that they would not receive any funding for this process.

True to their word, the Republicans immediately began work in earnest, retaining the law firm of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP ('Michael Best') to advise their caucus. Every effort was made to keep this work out of the public eye and, most particularly, out of the eye of the Democrats."

Republican staff never consulted with Democrats; they were sworn to secrecy, held closed-door meetings, and were "required to sign a confidentiality agreement promising not to discuss anything that was said," the judges wrote.

But the judges do not plan to change the other newly drawn districts. The panel said that though the process of drafting the new districts was "needlessly secret, regrettably excluding input from the overwhelming majority of Wisconsin citizens, and although the final product needlessly moved more than a million Wisconsinites and disrupted their long-standing political relationships, the resulting population deviations are not large enough to permit judicial intervention under the Supreme Court's precedents."

The three-judge panel included J.P. Stadtmueller, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan and judge in the U.S. District Court in Milwaukee; Diane P. Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals; and Robert M. Dow Jr. of the Northern District of Illinois. Wood was appointed by President Bill Clinton and Dow by President George W. Bush.

If the ruling is appealed, it will go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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