MILWAUKEE (AP) — Two Milwaukee voting districts were revised Wednesday in favor of Democrats and an immigrant-rights group, concluding a federal lawsuit over the constitutionality of the state’s newest election maps.
A panel of three federal judges accepted the Democrats’ revisions, dismissing in the process two maps that Republicans had proposed.
Unless there’s an appeal, the decision brings to a close a lawsuit filed last year by a handful of Democrats and Latino-rights group Voces de la Frontera.
At issue were the election maps that define the boundaries of Wisconsin voting districts The boundaries are redrawn every 10 years to account for population shifts. The latest maps were drawn in secrecy by Republicans and signed into law last year by Gov. Scott Walker, in a process that the judges frequently criticized in harsh language for its lack of transparency.
The plaintiffs argued in part that the new maps split up one strong Hispanic voting bloc in Milwaukee into two weaker groups, limiting those residents’ power to elect Latino candidates.
The federal panel agreed. The judges ordered both parties to adjust the boundary between the two districts, either by collaborating on one map or by submitting their own individual maps for the court’s approval. The two sides were unable to come to agreement, so the plaintiffs submitted one proposal of their own and the defendants submitted two.
The court chose the plaintiff’s map, saying it did a better job of uniting Hispanics who are American citizens and of voting age. The rest of the maps remained unchanged.
“We’re very pleased,” said attorney Doug Poland, who represented the Democrats. “We think the court did exactly what it should have done.”
The new maps will be used for the general election in November. The upcoming primaries and elections associated with the recalls of Walker and five other Republican officials will be based on the previous maps that had been approved in 2002.
The defendant in the lawsuit was the Government Accountability Board, which oversees state elections.
The GAB was represented in the trial by the state Department of Justice, which can choose to appeal Wednesday’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court can usually choose which cases to hear, but it must take all federal redistricting appeals.
Dana Brueck, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said the agency was disappointed but not surprised that neither of its maps was selected. She said the department expects to decide within the next week or so whether to appeal.
“We’re leaning toward an appeal,” she said in an email.
Poland said if there is an appeal on the decision about the two Milwaukee districts, the plaintiffs would consider a cross-appeal that would challenge the maps in their entirety. That could challenge other aspects of the maps that favor Republicans that the federal judges let stand.
State Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, the Senate Republican leader, lauded Wednesday’s ruling as reaffirmation that the Legislature correctly reapportioned 130 of the 132 districts.
However, Democratic state Rep. Peter Barca, the Assembly minority leader, said the entire lawsuit stemmed from Republicans’ unwillingness to work in a bipartisan fashion to produce fair maps. He said the GOP could have saved the people of Wisconsin a lot of time and money if it had simply done the right thing from the start.