Judges: Maps for two Milwaukee voting districts must be redrawn

MILWAUKEE -- A federal court ruling puts a hold on new voter maps drawn up by a Republican-controlled Legislature last year. Those maps were to be put in place for upcoming elections, but a judicial panel Thursday said there are problems with the maps on Milwaukee's near south side.

Thursday's decision is the result of a court challenge to the new maps, heard by federal judges last month. Now, both sides are declaring a victory, of sorts.

The federal court ruling says new voting maps must be drawn in the heavily-Hispanic voting districts of Assembly Districts 8 and 9 on Milwaukee's near south side. The Republican-controlled Legislature was accused in court of drawing the lines so in one district, a large number of non-Hispanic voters would overwhelm the Latino majority and take away its power. A panel of federal judges ruled Thursday the Legislature should go back to the drawing board for those two districts.

While those who brought the federal lawsuit forward say the Hispanic voters were not allowed a voice in the process, Republicans disagree that the maps are unfair, and stress that except for two districts, all other voting maps will stand as is.

"We think this represents a lesson that the kind of secrecy that was conducted to bring about this map that denied true participating, dialogue and debate. As a result, a stupid, unconstitutional map was adopted. Had this process been open, in the historic tradition of Wisconsin, the public would have participated," Peter Earle, the attorney for Voces de la Frontera, who filed the lawsuit, said.

"The redistricting maps aren't going to be done on the town square, so what are they talking about? You need to have an element of privacy. You have to concentrate," Republican Senator Alberta Darling said.

The Wisconsin Attorney General could appeal this ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, but Thursday, said: "With respect to the state Assembly districts created by Act 43, the Court rejected all constitutional challenges and all other challenges with one exception. The Court held that the plaintiffs were entitled to limited relief under the Voting Rights Act, with respect to Assembly Districts 8 and 9. The judgements made by the Wisconsin Legislature have been largely vindicated."

The Legislature will have to get together in the coming months to work on the maps for the two Milwaukee districts again. If there is no agreement on where the new lines will be drawn, the courts could end up drawing those lines eventually.