Federal court: Wisconsin GOP’s voting district maps unconstitutional

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A federal court says voting districts drawn by Wisconsin Republicans are unconstitutional.

The ruling issued Monday is a major victory for Democrats who have been in the minority for six years and lost ground in this year’s election. A three-judge panel tossed maps drawn by Republican lawmakers five years ago, saying they violate the voting rights of Democrats.

The maps divide Wisconsin into 99 Assembly and 33 Senate districts. A dozen voters sued last year, arguing that the boundaries discriminated against Democrats by diluting their voting power.

According to the judges’ ruling the plaintiffs “maintain that the Republican-controlled legislature drafted and enacted a redistricting plan that systematically dilutes the voting strength of Democratic voters statewide.”

The court ruled: “We find that Act 43 was intended to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters throughout the decennial period by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats. Moreover, as demonstrated by the results of the 2012 and 2014 elections, among other evidence, we conclude that Act 43 has had its intended effect.

Finally, we find that the discriminatory effect is not explained by the political geography of Wisconsin nor is it justified by a legitimate state interest.”

Attorneys for the state argued that the districts simply reflect that Wisconsin has been trending Republican.

The ruling can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Attorney General Brad Schimel said the state will.

“The Department of Justice is evaluating the court’s 159-page decision and we plan to appeal,” Schimel said in a statement Monday afternoon. “This 2-1 decision does not affect the results of this month’s election or any prior election and legislative district boundaries remain unchanged until the court rules on any remedy.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) says the case is unprecedented and “it isn’t over.”

The ruling can and should be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The state of Wisconsin has competitive legislative districts that meet every traditional principle of redistricting. Republicans win elections because we have better candidates and a better message that continues to resonate with the voters. The court has essentially created a brand new test that is significantly flawed and is an encroachment by the court into the legislature’s duties. The new standard ignores Wisconsin’s political geography where Democrats are naturally clustered in urban centers like Milwaukee and Madison.  We remain fully confident that the maps were constitutional when adopted, and will remain so when this case is finally concluded.”

Senator Dave Hansen, a Green Bay Democrat, issued a statement saying the Legislature should make non-partisan districting reform the top priority in the next legislative session.

The people of Wisconsin, regardless of which political party they support, deserve fair and honest elections and for their votes to count. To that end it is now incumbent upon the Court to throw out the current maps and issue a remedy that not only results in new, fair districts but also prevents any partisan efforts to commit similar gerrymandering in the future. The Legislature should make passage of non-partisan re-districting reform its first act of the 2017 Legislative Session.”

Rep. Gordon Hintz, a Democrat from Oshkosh, says the gerrymandering kept Republicans in control of the legislature despite Democrats getting more votes in statewide totals.

Today’s ruling is an overwhelming victory for Wisconsin voters.  The citizens of our state have demonstrated their shifting opinions over the years by voting for candidates and majorities of both parties.  These unconstitutional maps drawn in 2011 represent a direct attack on that freedom, and a successful attempt by Republicans to avoid responsiveness and accountability to their own constituents.  Now that it is clear that these actions were unconstitutional, I am hopeful that the courts will move forward in implementing maps that will better represent the geography of our state and the will of its people.”

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) called the ruling “an historic victory for voters.”

Voters should be able to choose their representatives, not the other way around. Today’s ruling is a victory for democracy and the people of Wisconsin. Once again, a court has declared the Republican’s 2011 legislative maps unconstitutional. This is an historic victory for voters and a further admonishment of the extremely slanted maps that trample the democratic will of the people of Wisconsin.”

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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