By DINESH RAMDE
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Federal judges gave Republican lawmakers a final three-hour window Wednesday to decide whether to modify their newly drawn election maps or stand trial on legal challenges.
Democrats and Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant-rights group, have sued the state Government Accountability board over redistricting and are trying to prevent it from conducting elections this year based on the new maps.
The GOP lawmakers had told attorneys Tuesday they would have been willing to reconsider the maps, but they said the state Constitution only allows the Legislature to modify the maps once every 10 years, when the new U.S. Census numbers come out.
The three-judge panel rejected that argument Wednesday. The judges said the law allows the maps to be modified at any point during the first two-year legislative session following the Census release. The Republican-controlled Legislature is still in session.
The most recent maps were drawn up in secrecy and approved last year by the GOP. Some maps cluster Republican voters and disperse Democrats in ways that Democrats say could make it more difficult to win future elections. The immigrant-rights group claims that new voting maps also divide Latino blocs, weakening their voting power.
The judges in this case have repeatedly said that any changes to election maps are best handled by lawmakers, not the courts. They’ve encouraged both sides to persuade lawmakers to voluntarily review the maps.
Dan Kelly, an attorney representing the Government Accountability Board, emphasized that he doesn’t represent lawmakers and can’t compel them to revisit the issue. Kelly also asked the judges if modified maps could be given a court stamp of approval to ward off additional trials.
“There’s always going to be some group of people that want something different,” he said.
The judges said all they could do was rule on the facts of the specific case before them. If the current plaintiffs’ concerns are addressed, the case would be dismissed, they said, but they couldn’t do anything to prevent other groups from filing subsequent challenges.
Both Kelly and Peter Earle, an attorney representing Voces, declined to comment afterward.
If lawmakers don’t agree to reconsider the maps, a formal trial on the challenge will begin at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. The trial was originally expected to last three to four days, but presiding Judge J.P. Stadtmueller said he would want to wrap up everything by Friday, even if the proceedings go into the evening.