By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democrats worked Friday to keep their challenge to Wisconsin’s Republican-drawn legislative boundaries alive, filing a new complaint in hopes of convincing a federal judicial panel and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court that they have a right to sue.
A dozen Democratic voters filed a federal lawsuit three years ago alleging Republican lawmakers unconstitutionally consolidated GOP power when they redrew the boundaries in 2011, diluting Democrats’ voting power by spreading them out across new, Republican-heavy districts. A three-judge panel agreed, but Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The justices in June refused to hear the case, saying the plaintiffs lacked a right to sue on a statewide basis. Rather than dismissing the lawsuit, however, the court gave the plaintiffs a chance to prove standing.
Democrats filed an amended complaint in federal court that adds 28 more Democratic voters as plaintiffs. The voters are now spread across 34 Assembly districts. They allege that the Republican-drawn lines were unnecessary and that their voting power was diluted because they were placed in Republican districts.
The new filing also contends that the boundaries violate the Democratic voters’ constitutional right to free association, a new argument that their attorneys say gives them the right to challenge the entire map.
“It’s time for the courts to stop hesitating and start protecting the fundamental right to vote from the harms caused by the distortions of gerrymandering,” Paul Smith, vice president of litigation and strategy at the Campaign Legal Center, the law firm representing the Democratic voters, said in a statement.
Schimel spokeswoman Rebecca Ballweg didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment.
All federal redistricting challenges are heard by three-judge panels and appeals go directly to the Supreme Court. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Ripple and U.S. District Judge William Griesbach heard the first case, with Crabb and Ripple voting to strike down the boundaries.
The new complaint has been assigned to the same panel, although Crabb has withdrawn and been replaced with U.S. District Judge James Peterson. He could be the swing vote that decides the case. The loser will almost certainly appeal to the Supreme Court.
Wisconsin isn’t the only state embroiled in legal battles over district boundaries.
A federal three-judge panel struck down 12 of North Carolina’s 13 Republican-drawn congressional districts in late August, finding Republicans drew them with excessive partisanship. Republicans’ attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case.
The same three-judge panel declared that state’s congressional districts unconstitutional in January. The U.S. Supreme Court returned the case to the judges in June for review after it refused to hear the Wisconsin case.
Republican voters in Maryland sued in 2011 over a single congressional district that was redrawn to flip the seat Democratic, according to the state’s former Democratic governor. That case has yet to go to trial.