Competing redistricting suits are before the courts as the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty asked the state Supreme Court to step in and several nonpartisan groups went to federal court.
The actions follow a suit from a half-dozen Dem voters asking a federal court earlier this month to set a deadline for GOP lawmakers and Dem Gov. Tony Evers to pass a map before taking over to draw the lines.
All three suits have one thing in common: they argue the likelihood of Evers and GOP lawmakers reaching a deal on new legislative and congressional boundaries is extremely low.
They want the courts to declare the current lines are unconstitutional due to population shifts and to put in place plans to draw lines on their own if the Legislature and Evers fail to reach a deal in a timely fashion.
On Monday, WILL asked the conservative-leaning state Supreme Court to take original jurisdiction in the case, arguing the states have primary responsibility for drawing new lines.
In addition to seeking a declaration that the current boundaries are unconstitutional, the suit then asks the court to stay the matter until the Legislature has adopted a new plan. If that happens, the suit wants the justices to weigh in on the constitutionality of those lines. If the Legislature and guv fail to reach an agreement, the suit asks the court to draw new districts.
GOP lawmakers last week filed a motion seeking to dismiss the suit filed by the Dems voters. They called it “wildly premature” and argued lawmakers should be first given the opportunity to draw new lines.
The WILL filing acknowledges that suit. Noting that federal and state courts have concurrent jurisdiction, WILL argues the state’s role is “primary” in redistricting suits.
“The Petitioners should not be required to resort to a federal court, and only a federal court, to protect their state constitutional rights,” the filing argues.
The suit also asks the courts to make “the least number of changes to the existing maps as are necessary to meet” various requirements.
Dems sued over the maps Republicans drew in 2011, and a three-judge federal panel found the lines to be an unconstitutional political gerrymander. The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled partisan redistricting is a political question and the federal courts should stay out of such disputes.
Despite winning Wisconsin by under 21,000 votes statewide last fall, Joe Biden took just 37 of 99 state Assembly districts and 11 of 33 in the Senate, according to a WisPolitics.com analysis of the certified returns.
In May, the court rejected a request filed by WILL and former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, R-Waukesha, to create a process for redistricting suits that would’ve required any such action to be taken up by the justices as an original action. While the justices refused to create a process that would’ve automatically bypassed the lower courts, they didn’t rule out taking a redistricting case directly.
In Monday’s filing, WILL argued the case should bypass the circuit and appeals courts because it would be “extremely difficult” for circuit court action and appellate review to be completed in enough time for the 2022 elections.
It also argues legal action can’t proceed until the Legislature completes its work on the maps, likely by year’s end. Meanwhile, a court order on the maps needs to be in place by April 15, when candidates can begin circulating nomination papers.
Read the WILL suit here.
Read the brief supporting the request for original jurisdiction here.
Meanwhile in federal court, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, Voces de la Frontera, the Wisconsin League of Women Voters and several voters argue the “Legislature’s recent preference for litigation over legislation” underscores the likelihood of an impasse.
The Monday filing notes the various legal fights between GOP lawmakers and Evers, including a lawsuit seeking to overturn his administration’s extended stay-at-home order and supporting other actions that sought to rein in his powers.
The suit also noted GOP lawmakers had retained private counsel in anticipation of a redistricting suit.
“The low likelihood of the Legislature and the Governor reaching agreement on a redistricting plan for state legislative districts in the 2020 cycle is further reflected in the current Legislature’s frequent resort to the courts to challenge executive action in lieu of seeking political compromise,” the suit argues.
The filing argues new lines must be in place no later than March 15, the deadline for the Wisconsin Elections Commission to notify clerks which offices will be on the ballot and where information can be found about district boundaries. That is one month ahead of candidates beginning to circulate nomination papers.
The suit seeks an order from 7th Circuit Chief Judge Diane Sykes, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, creating a three-judge panel to hear the suit. She has already created a three-judge panel in the other federal suit.
Read the federal lawsuit here.