By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A GOP plan that reworked the Wisconsin Assembly’s district lines was one of the worst examples of partisan gerrymandering in American history, an attorney challenging the new boundaries argued Tuesday.
Nicholas Stephanopoulos told a panel of three federal judges weighing whether the redistricting plan is constitutional that Republicans redrew the districts to marginalize Democrats and consolidate their own power for years. The plan solidified at least 10 additional Assembly districts as Republican strongholds, he said.
Legislators redraw district boundaries every 10 years to reflect population changes. Republicans reworked the maps in 2011 after taking control of the Senate, Assembly and the governor’s office.
A dozen voters who support Democrats filed a federal lawsuit last July alleging the boundaries discriminate against Democrats by diluting their supporters’ voting power, violating constitutional free speech and equal protection guarantees. They want a panel of three federal judges — U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Ripple and U.S. District Judge William Griesbach — to declare all 99 Assembly districts unconstitutional and redraw the boundaries.
The judges have set aside four days for a bench trial. The proceedings began Tuesday with Stephanopoulos’ opening statements.
He promised the evidence would show Republicans, their aides and their lawyers drew up the plan in secret without any input from Democrats and they saw the new maps as a chance to seize power for a decade.
He alleged Tad Ottman, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, remarked that the new maps will determine who serves in the Legislature 10 years from now and the GOP had an opportunity and an obligation to draw maps that the party hadn’t had in decades. The maps evolved until the number of safe Republican Assembly districts rose from 49 to 59, Stephanopoulos asserted.
He also promised to show the maps were approved in a rush, with the Legislature signing off on them just nine days after they were introduced in a bill. He noted, too, that an equation the plaintiffs developed will show large gaps between Republican and Democratic votes in the districts, proving extreme gerrymandering.
He called the new maps deliberate, severe and unjustifiable and said they amount to one of the worst cases of partisan gerrymandering in U.S. history.
The state Department of Justice, which is controlled by Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, is defending the maps. Assistant Attorney General Brian Keenan responded with a short opening statement of his own, saying the evidence won’t show any actual gerrymandering.
He said the term traditionally refers to creating strange, salamander-shaped districts to pack a party’s supporters together. The new districts are consistently shaped, and adopting the plaintiffs’ arguments would mean redefining gerrymandering, he said.
Keenan went on to argue partisanship is to be expected when one party draws legislative boundaries and the plaintiffs’ equation creates a false sense of certainty. He called their numbers “educated guesses” that don’t predict the future, saying they use statistics like a drunken man uses a light pole — for support rather than illumination.
The trial is scheduled to wrap up on Friday. It’s unlikely the judges will rule then. The panel likely will take at least several weeks before handing down a written decision.