Justices Urged to Uphold Wisconsin Gerrymandering Ruling

(CN) – Lawyers for 12 Wisconsin voters who successfully challenged Republican-drawn election maps filed a brief Monday asking the Supreme Court to affirm a three-judge panel’s ruling that the redistricting crossed the line into unconstitutional gerrymandering.

Twelve Democratic voters filed a 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 three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. The panel ruled 2-1 that 2011 Republican redistricting amounted to gerrymandering.

Election district challenges go before a three-judge panel by default, and appeal petitions go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Making good on Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel’s promise to challenge the 2-1 decision in Whitford v. Gill, the state of Wisconsin formally appealed the decision in February.

Schimel had vowed to appeal the decision shortly after it was handed down.

On Monday, lawyers from the Campaign Legal Center, or CLC, announced they filed a brief in support of the plaintiff voters, asking the Supreme Court to uphold the panel’s ruling.

“A three-judge panel in Wisconsin federal court rightfully held that Wisconsin lawmakers drew these maps for the benefit of their own political party, with little regard for the will of the voters,” CLC Vice President Paul Smith said in a statement. “The Supreme Court has the opportunity to ensure the maps in Wisconsin are drawn fairly, and further, has the opportunity to create ground rules that safeguard every citizen’s right to freely choose their representatives.”

CLC lawyers along with co-counsel represent the Wisconsin voters who filed the federal civil rights lawsuit against state election authorities.

The election maps at issue were created in 2011 as a redistricting plan known as 2011 Wisconsin Act 43, and Republican staff members worked with attorneys and experts to secretly craft the plan, according to the lawsuit.

Last year, Seventh Circuit Judge Kenneth Francis Ripple, a Reagan appointee, sat on the deciding three-judge panel along with U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb and Chief District Judge William Griesbach.

The panel’s 2-1 majority found that the maps violate the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

“Act 43 was intended to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters throughout the decennial period by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats,” Judge Ripple wrote.

Rather than create a new map, the court ordered both sides to submit alternative plans to fix the constitutional violation.

In the first election after the redistricting was enacted, Democrats barely won the total percentage of statewide votes for State Assembly candidates, but Republicans still won 60 of the 99 seats. Two years later, Republicans won the statewide majority vote and 63 seats.

Monday’s brief argues that the Supreme Court should affirm the panel’s ruling because it relied on a test for evaluating partisan gerrymandering claims “that is judicially discernible and manageable.”

“In 2012, Republicans won a supermajority of sixty seats (out of ninety-nine) while losing the statewide vote. In 2014 and 2016, Republicans extended their advantage to sixty-three and sixty-four seats, respectively, even though the statewide vote remained nearly tied. Republicans thus wield legislative power unearned by their actual appeal to Wisconsin’s voters,” the brief states. (Emphasis in original.)

Plaintiff Emily Bunting said in a CLC press release, “Our state representative used to answer our phone calls, and now he won’t. Before the redistricting, people could organize and fight…in our old district, we at least had some kind of impact. Now, not so much.”

The Supreme Court will have a chance to take up the case later this spring before its summer recess. Because of the unique procedures for redistricting cases, the Supreme Court will have three ruling options: to summarily affirm, summarily reverse or hear the case on its merits.

CLC President Trevor Potter said in a statement that the nation’s highest court “should take this opportunity to adopt a clear legal standard that would ensure our democracy functions as it should.”

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