By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A panel of federal judges in Milwaukee refused Thursday to wade into Wisconsin’s political redistricting fight, rejecting a request to take over the process from lawmakers.
The court fight over the state’s legislative district boundaries is far from over, though. Another federal lawsuit alleging the Legislature’s maps are unconstitutional is still pending.
The Wisconsin Constitution requires state lawmakers to redraw district boundaries to reflect population shifts after each 10-year census. Federal judges, though, have redrawn the lines three times in the past 30 years after politically divided legislatures couldn’t agree on new boundaries.
This year, though, Republicans control the Senate, Assembly and governor’s office, putting them in position to draw districts that would help cement their majority for the next decade.
Former state Senate Democratic Majority Leader Judy Robson of Beloit filed a request in early June to reopen a 2001 federal case that spurred the three-judge panel to draw the lines following the 2000 census. She asked the judges to step in again if the Legislature didn’t approve new boundaries in a timely fashion and ensure voters are represented equally in the 2012 elections.
She and a group of citizens filed a separate lawsuit with one of the judges the next day demanding the same thing.
Republican lawmakers moved on redistricting earlier this month, approving new maps for all 132 legislative districts and the state’s eight congressional districts.
Minority Democrats have complained the new lines are unfair and amount to a naked power grab. Republican Gov. Scott Walker has yet to sign the new maps into law. His spokesman declined to comment.
On Thursday, the three judges addressed Robson’s first request, saying in a two-paragraph order there was no need for them to step in this time. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said in a statement the order wasn’t a surprise.
“This court case was always a complaint with no basis in reality or law,” he said.
Robson’s attorney, Rebecca Mason, declined to comment on the order, saying only that the other lawsuit is still alive. The day after the Legislature passed the new districts, Mason amended the second lawsuit to request a declaration that the new districts were unconstitutional and ask the judge to redraw them if the Legislature didn’t address the issue by the 2012 elections.
Mason filed the lawsuit against the state Government Accountability Board, which oversees state elections. A board spokesman didn’t immediately return a message. A message left at the state Justice Department, which is defending the board in court, wasn’t immediately returned.