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Landmark WI Redistricting Ruling Could Resonate Nationally

In November, a three-judge federal panel ruled Wisconsin's political boundaries must be redrawn to make everyone's vote count equally. (bbourdages/
In November, a three-judge federal panel ruled Wisconsin's political boundaries must be redrawn to make everyone's vote count equally. (bbourdages/
February 13, 2017

MADISON, Wis. – In November, a three-judge federal panel ruled that Wisconsin's political maps were unconstitutionally gerrymandered, and in late January the panel ordered the state to redraw the maps in a fair manner by the first of November.

Now, the Republican leaders of the state Legislature, using taxpayer funds, have hired two expensive law firms to fight the ruling.

Matt Rothschild, executive director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, says the ruling has national implications.

"It was the first time in U.S. history that a federal panel had ruled that map drawing by a political party was so biased and so rigged that it amounted to unconstitutionally depriving people of their First Amendment rights," he points out.

Seven other states – Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Texas – could be affected by the Wisconsin ruling. These other states also have had voting-district maps drawn by partisan politicians.

Wisconsin’s Republican leaders say they're fighting the ruling because redrawing the maps by November could create havoc with the Legislature.

Rothschild says the manner in which the Wisconsin Republicans drew the maps was cloaked in secrecy, done not in the state Capitol, but in the office of a private Madison law firm.

"Behind locked doors in a room they called the map room, and the public wasn't involved, the media wasn't invited in, Democrats weren't invited in, and even Republicans who were invited in the locked map room had to sign an oath of secrecy,” he relates. “Well, that's not how the people's business should be done."

Republicans say the secrecy was necessary to prevent preliminary drafts of the map from getting out.

One of the attorneys hired by the Republicans is Paul Clement, who is regarded as the nation's leading redistricting attorney. He has argued similar cases in the Supreme Court for Virginia, North Carolina, and Arizona.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI