Court ruling ends redistricting lawsuit

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Two Milwaukee voting districts were revised Wednesday, April 11th in favor of Democrats and an immigrant-rights group, concluding a federal lawsuit over the constitutionality of the state's newest election maps.

A panel of three federal judges accepted the Democrats' revisions for Assembly districts 8 and 9, dismissing in the process two maps that Republicans had proposed. Unless there's an appeal, the decision brings to a close a lawsuit filed last year by a handful of Democrats and Latino-rights group Voces de la Frontera.

At issue were the election maps that define the boundaries of Wisconsin voting districts The boundaries are redrawn every 10 years to account for population shifts. The latest maps were drawn in secrecy by Republicans and signed into law last year by Gov. Scott Walker, in a process that the judges frequently criticized in harsh language for its lack of transparency.

The plaintiffs argued in part that the new maps split up one strong Hispanic voting bloc in Milwaukee into two weaker groups, limiting those residents' power to elect Latino candidates. The federal panel agreed. The judges ordered both parties to adjust the boundary between the two districts, either by collaborating on one map or by submitting their own individual maps for the court's approval. The two sides were unable to come to
agreement, so the plaintiffs submitted one proposal of their own and the defendants submitted two.

The court chose the plaintiff's map, saying it did a better job of uniting Hispanics who are American citizens and of voting age. The redrawn lines will give Latinos a majority voting block in District 8. The rest of the maps remained unchanged.

Voces de la Frontera officials said they were pleased by the court ruling. "It's what I anticipated, and obviously pleased with their decision. I think it's a fair decision," Christine Neumann-Ortiz with Voces said.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice issued a statement saying: ""We`re disappointed one of our maps wasn`t chosen, but not surprised. We expect to reach a final decision on whether to appeal by the end of this week or early next week, but we`re leaning toward an appeal."

Voces attorney Peter Earle said Voces based its numerical majority for the districts based on eligible Latino voters, including voting age and citizenship. The state based its numbers solely on voting age. Earle said now, Voces is focused on how the Legislative maps were drawn - in a law firm, under the cover of secrecy. Earle said Voces plans to file civil suits against the lawmakers, saying the lawmakers signing secrecy agreements before being allowed to enter is a violation of the state Constitution.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told FOX6 News the original maps were drawn legally. "There's Senate rules again that say partisan caucuses are allowed and those caucuses can be closed," Fitzgerald said.

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