• WisPolitics


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

 10:39 AM 

Three-judge panel orders lawmakers to see if they can redo redistricting

The Legislature has the power to redo the GOP-designed redistricting plan to address concerns raised in a suit challenging the constitutionality of the lines and must decide by this afternoon if they're willing to do that, a three-judge court ruled Wednesday.

The judges gave lawyers until 2 p.m. today to respond on their request to rework the maps. If they refuse, the trial would resume at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

On Tuesday, the judges expressed concerns over points raised by plaintiffs that some 300,000 residents would not be able to vote for a member of the state Senate for six years and that members of the Hispanic and African-American communities would see their voting rights diluted. They asked the lawyers to see if the parties involved could address those concerns with new maps.

When they returned to court Tuesday afternoon, Dan Kelly, a lawyer defending the plan, reported that legislative leaders essentially said they would considering doing new maps if they could, but believed they couldn't. Kelly said redoing it would be violate the Wisconsin Constitution because state lawmakers are limited to doing just one map every 10 years. Lawyers defending the maps have also argued the federal court is not in a position to interpret state law.

But Judge Diane Wood, speaking for the court, said this morning the panel had decided that it could interpret state law on that question and would.

"Nothing stands in the way of further revision of the redistricting plan," Wood said, adding that the question that remains whether there is a will to resolve the matter.

If the Legislature agrees to make the effort to redo the redistricting plan, it will have to be more than a "shake and bake" effort, said Judge J.P. Stadtmueller, referring to adopting a plan without public input.

"That's consistently been the biggest problem," Stadtmueller said. "It's not been in keeping with the tradition of open and transparent government."

Kelly, who represents the Government Accountability Board, questioned whether there could be new challenges to a revised plan.

Wood said the court would review an amended plan and there would be a trial if there was a disputed issue.

Kelly said the Legislature was essentially being asked to start over with the drafting and added "there's always going to be some other group that will want something different."

Stadtmueller said there is nothing wrong with the process being political but said "a political decision has to pass constitutional muster. That's what this case is about."

Maria Lazar, an assistant attroney general, said her side essentially wants the court to issue a consent decree, giving its stamp of approval to any negotited plan.

Judge Robert M. Dow Jr said "we wouldn't be sitting here if we didn't think there were some issues for trial. You guys can take those issues off the table."

On other matters, the court said the deposition of Jim Troupis, a lawyer involved in drawing up the plan, can proceed. The court found that there were only a handful of documents that would be off the table because of the attorney-client relationship.
The political and legal process was almost completely entwined, Dow said.

-- By Marie Rohde

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