Tag Archives: maps

Court blocks Wisconsin redistrict plan, orders new maps

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 Heber, 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.”

Heber 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.”

 

For the record …

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.”

State senator seeks sponsors for non-partisan redistricting bill

State Sen. Dave Hansen is seeking sponsors for legislation to create a non-partisan redistricting process.

Seeking sponsors marks the next step toward introduction of the bill, according to Hansen, a Democrat from Green Bay.

Hansen is a long-time advocate of redistricting reform that would move responsibility from legislators and political parties to the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau.

“Allowing politicians to draw district boundaries makes it too easy for the majority party to gerrymander the maps to their long-term advantage,” Hansen said in a press statement. “And when parties engage in that behavior it is the voters and the people who are hurt because they are no longer able to check extreme behavior by the majority party.”

In 2011 Republican leaders and staff worked in secret outside the Capitol to draw district lines designed to lock in their legislative majorities for ten years or more.

As a result, in the 2012 election Republicans took over 61 percent of the seats in the Assembly despite winning less than 49 percent of the vote.

“Gerrymandering as we are seeing it practiced is a form of cheating,” Hansen said. “Neither political party should be able to lock in their power by creating an unfair advantage in drawing district lines.”

A federal court has ruled the Republican-drafted maps are unconstitutional, drawn with the intent to lock in GOP control of the Senate and Assembly. The case is on track for a U.S. Supreme Court review.

Hansen said making the legislative change is important regardless of the outcome in the court case.

He said, “No one who looks at the evidence objectively is disputing that the maps drawn by Republican leaders are unfair to the voters. If competition is a good thing in other aspects of society then it is good for our political system. And that’s what we want, fair and competitive elections.”

U.S. court overturns Wisconsin legislative maps

A federal three-judge panel on Nov. 21 ruled that Wisconsin’s legislative maps are unconstitutional.

The ruling came in a case filed by 12 Wisconsin Democrats who sued more than a year ago and an appeal is likely.

A press statement said this is the first time a map has been overturned by a federal court for being gerrymandered for political reasons.

“The ruling in Whitford v. Gill (formerly Whitford v Nichol) is a stunning victory for democracy,” said Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Election Project, which organized and launched the lawsuit. “The citizens of Wisconsin will now have a chance to elect a government which represents us.”

“This is a victory for democracy — not just for Democrats, but for all Wisconsin citizens,” stated Sen. Dale Schultz, a former Republican Majority Leader of the Wisconsin State Senate who co-chairs the Fair Elections Project. “Everyone benefits from a fair elections process that moderates the worst tendencies of extremists in both parties.

“What happened in Wisconsin in 2011 was an egregious violation of our state’s moral values,” added Sen. Tim Cullen, a former Democratic Majority Leader of the Wisconsin State Senate who served as the other co-chair. “Instead of voters choosing their elected officials, the Republican majority in Wisconsin decided they would entrench themselves in power despite the views of voters. The court has said today that will not stand.”

Originally filed in July 2015, the lawsuit demanded the district maps for the state Legislature be thrown out, calling the line-drawing process “secretive” and “partisan,” and the maps unconstitutional for overly advantaging one party.

The plaintiffs said the lawsuit fulfills a call issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in previous cases for a standard to measure how much partisan gerrymandering is allowable and shows how Wisconsin’s map is “far outside acceptable redistricting norms.”

A trial was conducted before the federal panel in Madison in May.

“I’m very pleased with this decision,” said lead plaintiff Bill Whitford. “It is truly historic. As a lifelong Democrat, the court’s decision recognizes the power of my voice and the voices of all other Democrats across the state. This decision could have a monumental impact in ensuring that voters’ voices are heard across the nation, regardless of party. I want fair elections, where the voters have the power, not a gerrymander for either side created by self-interested politicians. That’s what today’s decision is all about.”

“Today is a historic day and I am thrilled with the result not only for our plaintiffs, but for all Wisconsin voters,” stated lead trial attorney Peter Earle. “This decision will finally give voters in Wisconsin the power they deserve to shape their democracy. Now a fairer system will be created here in Wisconsin so all voters, not just a select few, will be able to have their voices heard.”

Gerry Hebert, director of the Voting Rights and Redistricting Program at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., had this to say: “This is truly a monumental victory for the plaintiffs in this case, but more importantly this is an historic moment for our nation and the betterment of democracy,” said . The Campaign Legal Center joined the case in the months leading up to trial.

The court did not rule on a remedy, ordering further rounds of briefing and potentially testimony in the coming weeks.

Reaction to the ruling …

• “The Department of Justice is evaluating the court’s 159-page decision and we plan to appeal,” said Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel. “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 Democratic Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said:  “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.

“I want to thank the voters who came forward to bring this challenge and who bravely stood up for not only their own voting rights, but for the rights of all Wisconsinites.”

Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said: “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.”

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Under Republican rule for the last six years, we have seen a deliberate and concerted effort to rig Wisconsin’s elections.  They made it harder for students to register to vote, deliberately disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters with an unnecessary Voter ID law, eliminated Wisconsin’s non-partisan elections watch-dog and now it is confirmed, they drew Wisconsin’s legislative districts so regardless of the votes cast, Republicans would maintain legislative control.

“Today’s ruling is a win for all voters in Wisconsin.  No matter where you live or what your political beliefs are — every Wisconsinite’s vote should be valued, protected and treated equally and fairly under the law.  I applaud the court’s decision today and it should serve as a strong reminder to my Republican colleagues that justice always prevails and the power truly belongs to the people, not donors, lobbyists or conservative special interests.”

• Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, remarked: “There are only two things that are certain about this case:  it’s 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.”

Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, said: “Today’s court ruling recognizes the Republican abuse of power as going too far in shutting out our neighbors’ voices in elections.

“Attempts to suppress the public’s voice by politically gerrymandering districts in order to weaken the voting power of targeted groups is a betrayal of our fundamental freedoms and values. The ruling today should serve as strong warning to Wisconsin and as a clear precedent to other states. If we were outsiders taking a real look at the flawed, unfair, and undemocratic voting system that one party rule has thrust upon our state, I am certain the majority of us would be shocked and outraged.

Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said: “We’ve known for years that Republican politicians have abused their power to rig Wisconsin elections in their favor. From disenfranchising voters, limiting polling places, restricting voting hours and drawing unconstitutional legislative districts, Republican politicians have waged an unprecedented attack on our democratic values. Every voter deserves to have their voice heard and I am relieved that our judicial system is helping to hold Republicans accountable for their unconstitutional partisan power grabs.”

Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Martha Laning added: “The Republican 2011 legislative maps – created in secret – have been declared unconstitutional by the courts. This is a historic victory for our democracy and all of the voters in the great state of Wisconsin.

“I look forward to the creation of new district lines that respect Wisconsin’s tradition of fair and open government and ensure that all of the people and communities in our state are represented equally.”

EPA releases web-based environmental justice mapping tool

The EPA this month released EJSCREEN, a web-based environmental justice mapping and screening tool that provides information communities need to assess environmental and health problems and disparities.

EJSCREEN provides high resolution maps showing nationally-based demographic and environmental information that helps the user understand potential environmental justice issues in a particular area.

EJSCREEN only includes data available on a national scale but, according to the group Earthjustice, is an important first step in identifying and assisting communities overburdened with pollution.

People can access the tool through EPA’s website, www2.epa.gov/EJSCREEN.

Earthjustice, in a statement, said urged the EPA to strengthen the tools available to provide information and assess the health impacts and disparities of pollution and environmental problems at the community level.

EPA first committed to create a national environmental justice screening tool as part of its Plan EJ 2014, the environmental justice strategic plan created by former administrator Lisa Jackson. 

Earlier this year, together with over 40 community groups from around the United States, Earthjustice submitted a letter to the administrator emphasizing the importance of releasing EJSCREEN for public input and use as soon as possible.

Earthjustice legislative counsel Stephanie Maddin said, “We are delighted to see that EPA has released the first-ever national screening tool for environmental justice. We know that too many communities in the United States, particularly communities of color and low-income communities, face extra, harmful pollution from sources like oil refineries, and EJSCREEN will help shine important light on this unfairness.”

Inauguration Day: There’s an app for that

The Presidential Inaugural Committee has announced the first smartphone app for official inaugural events.

“This inauguration is a celebration of the American people,” said Steve Kerrigan, president and CEO of the PIC. “That’s why we’ve designed our app to make sure folks across this country don’t miss a moment of history. Whether you’re in Washington, D.C., or any other part of the nation, there are plenty of ways to be involved in the inauguration through this app.”

The app encourages users to serve their communities, offering the ability to look up National Day of Service events around the country.

Users can filter the type of event they are interested in, whether it’s focused on education, health, community resilience, economic development, veterans and military families, faith or the environment.

Once users find the right event for them, they can RSVP and see how many others in their community plan to attend the event.

App users also will be able to find their way to official inaugural events using the maps feature. The maps include essential information such as event access points, portable toilet locations, and viewing screen locations.

“This is the first official smartphone app built for a presidential inauguration,” said Nate Lubin, digital director at the PIC. “We wanted to build a tool that will enable us to reach new people in new ways. This app does just that.”

Other app features include: the full schedule of official events, blog content highlighting aspects of the inauguration, news about official events and access to official photography and video content.

The app also syncs with Facebook, Twitter email and texting.

The PIC app is available for iPhones and Android devices.

It also is available for the iPad.

To download the app go to http://action.2013pic.org/page/s/official-app. 

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