By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican lawmakers should be allowed to redraw legislative boundaries if the U.S. Supreme Court says they must be recast, state attorneys told a panel of federal judges in a filing Thursday.
Attorneys who challenged the boundaries, meanwhile, contended in their own filing that the judges should redraw the lines immediately and get them in place ahead of the 2018 elections.
A dozen voters sued in 2015 over the Republican-drawn boundaries, alleging they unconstitutionally consolidated GOP power and discriminated against Democrats. The three-judge panel agreed in a 2-1 ruling in November but didn’t order any immediate action.
The plaintiffs have argued the judges should redraw the lines. But if the Legislature instead does the work, it should be done by April. DOJ attorneys, led by Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, argue the process should be on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court hears the agency’s appeal. They want the panel to issue an order directing the Legislature to revise the districts but not require a plan to be enacted until the Supreme Court makes a decision.
Schimel and Assistant Attorney General Brian Keenan filed a brief Thursday reiterating that nothing should be done until the Supreme Court weighs in, saying that court likely will reverse the panel’s ruling or provide substantial guidance.
If the panel decides to move forward ahead of a Supreme Court decision, however, the Legislature should get to redraw the maps, the DOJ attorneys argued. Legislators are in a much better position to reconcile constitutional requirements with state policy and courts should step in only when lawmakers fail to act or if elections are fast approaching.
Lawmakers also shouldn’t be required to act until early 2018 since the Supreme Court could weigh in before then and that’s the year of the next round of legislative elections, they added. Requiring a plan by April would be inconsistent with federal court practice of dismissing or staying litigation redistricting until an election year, they said.
Republicans re-drew the district lines shortly after they seized 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 will keep control of both houses at least until early 2019, which means that if the state justice department wins the case the GOP would rewrite the boundaries again in 2018.
The voters’ attorneys filed a separate brief Thursday accusing DOJ of trying to delay things until it’s too late to get new maps in place for 2018. They asked the court to reject the agency’s request to stay the case.
They argued that other courts haven’t moved so slowly in redistricting cases. The judges should prohibit any further use of the current boundaries and take prompt measures to ensure a new map is in place for 2018. Granting the DOJ a stay would “likely cause an illegitimate plan to taint Wisconsin’s democracy for another two years.”
“It continues to defy credibility how strongly they argue that Republicans should have the right to draw districts that ensure Republican power, even in the face of condemnation of their unconstitutional, undemocratic behavior by the federal courts,” Sachin Chheda, director of the Wisconsin Fair Elections Project, which organized the lawsuit, said in an email.