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State makes legal arguments in redistricting appeal (UPDATE)

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s Republican attorney general told the U.S. Supreme Court in a legal filing Friday that a ruling striking down GOP-drawn legislative boundaries in the state as unconstitutional is “unprecedented.”

Attorney General Brad Schimel submitted the state’s legal arguments after he notified the court last month that he was appealing the ruling. The arguments mirror those Schimel made in the losing case before a three-judge federal court panel last year.

Those judges struck down the maps and in January ordered the Republican-controlled Legislature to draw new boundaries by November so they would be in place for the 2018 election. Democrats who challenged the maps are calling on the Legislature to move quickly to draw new ones. But Schimel and Republicans don’t want to do that unless the Supreme Court requires it.

Schimel, in his Friday filing with the Supreme Court, said Democrats challenging the maps can’t argue they amount to partisan gerrymandering “because the plan is in full compliance with traditional redistricting principles.”

The Supreme Court does not have to hear arguments in the case, but those involving redistricting typically have a better chance than most. Schimel argued Friday that the court should allow arguments instead of summarily accepting or rejecting the earlier ruling.

Ruth Greenwood, deputy director of redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center that is leading the legal battle against the maps, expressed confidence the Supreme Court would uphold the earlier ruling striking down the maps.

“For too long our democracy has been controlled by politicians who manipulate voting maps to keep their own political party in power,” Greenwood said in a statement. “It’s time the high court sets a standard to curb this undemocratic practice nationwide.”

Republicans redrew the legislative boundaries for Wisconsin shortly after they gained complete control of state government in 2011. The new boundaries have helped the GOP maintain control of the state Senate and Assembly in every election since then. Republicans have their largest majority in the state Senate since 1971 and their biggest in the Assembly since 1957.

Schimel argued in his filing Friday that elections under the new maps were not surprising and reflected “Wisconsin’s political geography” as well as the advantages that incumbents have.

Schimel also argued those challenging the maps have to challenge them district by district, not in their entirety.

A dozen voters sued in 2015 over the maps, alleging they unconstitutionally consolidated GOP power and discriminated against Democrats. The three-judge panel agreed.

The Supreme Court is split 4-4 between conservatives and liberals. The U.S. Senate is considering whether to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee Neil Gorsuch, a conservative.

Schimel is representing the state Elections Commission in the case. Republican legislative leaders hired a pair of law firms to represent them and file a series of briefs before the Supreme Court. Taxpayers could have to pay $175,000 in legal fees to one firm, while another is being paid $300 an hour to work the case. Taxpayers have already spent $2 million for the Republican defense of the maps.

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