Wisconsin redistricting: Republicans take case to Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Government file photo)

Wisconsin Republican state lawmakers on Friday, Sept. 24 asked the U.S. Supreme Court to dismiss a redistricting lawsuit brought by Democrats that asks a federal court to draw political boundary lines in the battleground state.

The filing by attorneys representing the Republican-controlled Legislature comes two days after the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court said it would hear a similar case backed by the GOP. Republicans feel they will have a better shot in the state Supreme Court, controlled 4-3 by conservatives, than they will in federal court.

The case belongs in state court and it's too early for such a case to be considered in federal court, Republicans said in Friday's filing asking the U.S. Supreme Court to dismiss the lawsuit. That lawsuit was filed on behalf of Wisconsin voters by the Democratic Party's lead attorney Marc Elias and a host of voting advocacy groups in the state.

The panel of three federal judges considering the redistricting lawsuit previously declined to dismiss the case and on Tuesday said they wanted to conclude a trial by the end of January. Republicans on Thursday asked to put the case on hold and the judges gave all the parties until Oct. 1 to respond.

All of the legal maneuvering comes before the Legislature has even introduced new maps for congressional and legislative districts, let alone voted on one.

Republicans and Democrats alike expect whatever the GOP-controlled legislature passes will be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. That's why they are asking the courts to get involved now. The last three times redistricting was done in Wisconsin under divided government, in 2002, 1992 and 1982, a federal court drew the maps.

Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison

Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison

If the U.S. Supreme Court agrees with Republicans and ends the federal lawsuit, that means the Wisconsin Supreme Court would approve the final maps if the Legislature and governor don’t agree.

"Even in this era of politicized decisions from the nation’s highest court, the American people have the right to expect our federal courts to follow the law and not do the parochial bidding of one state’s politics party," said Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project. "The Supreme Court should reject this partisan nonsense for what it is - an unveiled effort to rig the process in favor of one political party."

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The Legislature on Tuesday is scheduled to approve a resolution stating that the current district will be used as the basis for drawing new maps. The federal lawsuit backed by Democrats argues that the current maps are unconstitutionally gerrymandered and should not be the starting point for creating the new lines.

Redistricting is the once-a-decade process of redrawing the state’s political boundaries based on the latest census showing how populations have changed in neighborhoods, cities and counties since 2010. Mapmakers can create an advantage for their political party in future elections by packing opponents’ voters into a few districts or spreading them thin among multiple districts — a process known as gerrymandering.

An Associated Press analysis found that Republicans won about 16 more U.S. House seats in 2018 and held on to seven more state legislative chambers, including the Wisconsin Assembly, than would have been expected to based on their average share of the vote in congressional districts across the country.

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