A three-judge panel in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin on Jan. 27 permanently blocked the state’s redistricting plan, which unconstitutionally denies voters the ability to elect lawmakers.
“Yet again, the federal courts have ruled clearly: Wisconsin’s district maps are an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, they violate the rights of millions of Wisconsin citizens, and it’s time to move ahead and draw new maps,” said Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, which helped organize the lawsuit. “This is a victory for democracy and we look forward to a process to draw these maps that engage the community and invite public participation.”
This ruling by the court ensures that new district maps will be in place for the next state legislative elections, according to a news release.
The case is Whitford v. Gill.
And the state is expected to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The lead plaintiff is Bill Whitford, who said, “Now, we will be keeping a watchful eye on the state Legislature as they draw the new maps and I ask them, for the sake of our democracy, to put partisan politics aside and the interests of all voters first.”
Whitford and 11 Democrats are plaintiffs in the case being handled by the Campaign Legal Center and co-counsel Douglas M. Poland of Rathje & Woodward, LLC, Peter G. Earle, Michele L. Odorizzi of Mayer Brown and Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos of University of Chicago Law School.
Gerry Hebert, director of voting rights and redistricting for CLC, stated, “This is truly another monumental victory for the plaintiffs in this case and for all Wisconsin Voters. Today, the court made a clear statement that holding yet another unconstitutional election under Act 43 would cause significant harm to the voters.”
Hebert said the Legislature has continuously “demonstrated a disregard for the rights of the voters and an inability to craft a fair, legal redistricting plan” but a new plan would put voters, not partisan politics, first.
Poland said the court gave the state a Nov. 1 deadline for new maps.
He said, “The Legislature has plenty of time to hold hearings with broad participation from Wisconsin citizen. There is no excuse for limiting participation by all interested parties to draw a fair map in an open and transparent process. The time for cloaking the process in secrecy has ended. The plaintiffs, their lawyers, and all of Wisconsin, are watching.”
State Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison: “The cornerstone of democracy is that the people should get to pick their legislators, not that legislators get to pick their voters. Today’s court ruling is a victory for Wisconsinites and democracy in our state, which has been under near-constant attack for the last six years. Voting should be fair, easy, and accessible, and today’s ruling only reinforces what Democrats have been saying for years.”
Lisa Neff is senior news editor for the Wisconsin Gazette.