Conservatives file redistricting lawsuit in Wisconsin

By SCOTT BAUER Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A conservative group filed a redistricting lawsuit with the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Monday, an action that comes after Democrats filed their own legal challenge in federal court less than two weeks ago.

A third lawsuit on behalf of voting rights advocacy groups was also filed in federal court on Monday. The lawsuits mean there are fights in both state and federal courts in Wisconsin over redistricting, even before the Legislature proposes a map or takes a vote on new political boundary lines.

All of the lawsuits argue that the current maps, adopted in 2011, are unconstitutional and courts should establish a plan to draw new lines because the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will not be able to agree.

Democrats and the advocacy groups are asking the federal courts to handle the drawing of new maps, while the lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, known as WILL, asks the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court to do it.

"Adopting new legislative maps is a state responsibility," said Rick Esenberg, president of WILL, in a prepared statement. "If the legislature and governor cannot agree, it is entirely appropriate – even necessary – for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, a branch of state government, to pass a judicial apportionment plan to adopt constitutional maps."

The lawsuit asks the Supreme Court to accept the case and put it on hold until the Legislature adopts a new map. If the Legislature doesn't adopt a constitutional map approved by the governor, the lawsuit argues, then the court should adopt new maps, using the current ones as a starting point.

The current maps were drawn by Republicans and enacted by then-Gov. Scott Walker in 2011. Republicans who strengthened their legislative majorities under the maps want to use them as the starting point for redistricting this year.

The lawsuit asks the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take the case directly, rather than have it start at lower state courts and work its way up.

Republicans had previously asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to adopt a rule requiring all redistricting cases to start with the high court. The Supreme Court in May refused to do that but said its decision didn't preclude it from taking cases directly, anyway.

It's premature for the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take the case and the court is "ill-suited to litigate redistricting issues," said Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, a nonpartisan group promoting independent redistricting.

Chheda said the federal lawsuit filed Monday does provide a means for courts to enact fair maps.

That lawsuit was brought by Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, Voces de la Frontera, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and three voters. It asks the federal court to draw new legislative district boundaries if the governor and Legislature fail to do so. It does not address congressional maps.

Law Forward, a legal group backed by Democrats that was formed last year to lead the fight on redistricting, is representing the advocacy groups along with the Campaign Legal Center.

The three lawsuits were filed after the state received population data from the U.S. Census Bureau on Aug. 12, information that forms the basis for the once-a-decade task of drawing maps for legislative and congressional boundary lines.

The Democrats' federal lawsuit was filed by Marc Elias, who is leading the Democratic Party's legal fight against new voting restrictions. He did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the new lawsuit.

The Republican-controlled Legislature is seeking to intervene in the Democrats' lawsuit and have it dismissed. They argue that the lawsuit is "wildly premature" and an attack on the Legislature's constitutional responsibility to draw new maps for legislative and congressional districts every 10 years.

Republican leaders, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, did not immediately return messages asking if they would seek to intervene in the latest lawsuit brought by conservatives.

Wisconsin state Rep. Gordon Hintz, the Democratic minority leader in the state Assembly, said the lawsuit in state court was part of a Republican effort to work off the existing maps they drew in order to maintain their electoral advantage.

"Anything they can do to disenfranchise voters in the state, is something they will do," Hintz said. "The priority for them is not democracy, it's political advantage and they're going to go whatever route gives them the best shot to maintain political power."

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