Tag Archives: supreme court

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.”

Wisconsin citizens want legislative maps redrawn before next state elections

Wisconsin citizens have asked a U.S. District Court to redraw state legislative maps in advance of the next round of elections.

The request comes after a federal trial that resulted in the state’s district maps being ruled unconstitutional for being an illegal partisan gerrymander.

“The court’s verdict last month was clear — Wisconsin’s legislative maps are unconstitutional, and the GOP majority violated the rights of Wisconsin’s citizens when they adopted the map,” stated Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, which organized and launched the lawsuit.

Chheda said on Dec. 21 the plaintiffs in the case “formally asked that the maps be replaced, so we can have free and fair elections in the state of Wisconsin. The citizens of Wisconsin should have a chance to elect a government which represents us.”

The recent ruling in Whitford v. Gill came after a May 2016 trial.

A majority of the federal three-judge panel overseeing the case ruled in favor of the 12 Wisconsin Democrats who filed suit more than a year ago.  The ruling represents the first time a map has been overturned by a federal court for being a political gerrymander.

In a separate filing this week, the state of Wisconsin — which lost the trial — asked for any further action in the District Court to be put on hold until its U.S. Supreme Court appeal is heard and decided.

The state wants the High Court to overturn the trial court’s decision and to allow the Legislature to redraw maps.

The citizen plaintiffs, in contrast, argue the redrawing process should take place during the appeal in order to ensure the maps are in place in a timely manner. The plaintiffs also asked the court to draw the maps, rather than allow another biased effort by a legislative majority to create the boundaries.

“Every Wisconsin citizen deserves the right to have their vote count,” said state Sen. Dale Schultz, a former Republican Majority Leader of the Wisconsin State Senate, who co-chairs the Fair Elections Project. “The plaintiffs won at trial, they won twice earlier in the process when the state tried to short-circuit this case, and now they are likely to win at the Supreme Court.”

“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 serves as the other co-chair of the project. “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 clearly that will not stand.”

Filed in July 2015, the lawsuit demands district maps for the state Legislature be thrown out, calling the line-drawing process “secretive” and “partisan.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Peter Earle and Doug Poland as co-lead trial counsel, Prof. Nicholas Stephanopoulos of the University of Chicago Law School, Michele Odorizzi of Mayer Brown, and a team from the Campaign Legal Center, including Gerry Hebert and Ruth Greenwood.

Oklahoma Supreme Court throws out anti-abortion law

The Oklahoma Supreme Court this week threw out a law requiring abortion clinics to have doctors with admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, saying efforts to portray the measure as protecting women’s health are a “guise.”

The law would require a doctor with admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles be present for any abortion. The court found it violates both the U.S. and Oklahoma Constitutions. The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year struck down a similar provision in Texas.

“Under the guise of the protection of women’s health,” Oklahoma Justice Joseph Watt wrote, “(the law) creates an undue burden on a woman’s access to abortion, violating protected rights under our federal Constitution,” referring specifically to the Texas case.

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin signed the measure, Senate Bill 1848, into law in 2014, but courts had blocked it from taking effect. This week’s ruling overturns a lower court’s decision in February that upheld the law.

The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the law on behalf of Dr. Larry Burns, a Norman physician who, at the time the lawsuit was filed in October 2014, performed nearly half of Oklahoma’s abortions.

Burns has said he applied for admitting privileges at hospitals in the Oklahoma City area but was turned down.

Also, at the time, the only other clinic in the state that performed abortions was in Tulsa. However the Trust Women South Wind Women’s Center opened in south Oklahoma City in September and Planned Parenthood opened in the northwest Oklahoma City suburb of Warr Acres in November.

“Today’s decision is a victory for Oklahoma women and another rebuke to politicians pushing underhanded laws that attack a woman’s constitutionally guaranteed right to safe, legal abortion,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but previously has said that bill was passed to protect the health and safety of Oklahoma women.

The court also found that the law violates the Oklahoma Constitution’s ban on measures containing more than one subject, a practice known as logrolling. The law included “12 separate and unrelated subsections,” the court said.

“The sections in SB 1848 are so unrelated and misleading that a legislator voting on this matter could have been left with an unpalatable all-or-nothing choice,” according to the ruling.

The court’s ruling came the same day that the Oklahoma Board of Health approved new requirements for hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants and public schools to post signs inside public restrooms directing pregnant women where to receive services as part of an effort to reduce abortions in the state.

The provision mandating the signs was tucked into a measure the Legislature passed this year that requires the state to develop informational material “for the purpose of achieving an abortion-free society.”

Businesses and other organizations estimate they will have to pay $2.3 million to put up the signs because the Legislature approved no funding for them.

The Legislature and the governor must ratify the board’s rules for the signs before they are scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018, board attorney Donald Maisch said.

In Ohio, Republican Gov. John Kasich this week signed a 20-week abortion ban while vetoing stricter provisions in a separate measure that would have barred the procedure at the first detectable fetal heartbeat. The so-called heartbeat bill would have prohibited most abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

In Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to block additional parts of a contentious Florida abortion law. The lawsuit contends that the law violates constitutional rights by requiring groups to register with the state and pay a fee if they advise or help women seek abortions. The lawsuit also challenges a provision requiring groups to tell women about alternatives to abortion.

Kennedy vote seems key to Supreme Court redistricting cases

Justice Anthony Kennedy appears to hold the decisive vote in two Supreme Court cases involving challenges from African-American voters to electoral districts in North Carolina and Virginia.

The court’s liberal and conservative justices seemed otherwise divided after arguments this week about whether race played too large a role in creation of congressional districts in North Carolina and state legislative districts in Virginia.

The issue of race and redistricting one is a familiar one at the Supreme Court. States have to take race into account when drawing maps for legislative, congressional and a host of municipal political districts. At the same time, race can’t be the predominant factor, under a line of high court cases stretching back 20 years.

Kennedy said he had problems with a lower court’s reasoning in upholding 12 districts in Virginia, suggesting there could be a majority for throwing out that decision. He had less to say about the two North Carolina congressional districts, which were struck down by a lower court.

The arguments demonstrated the difficulty in distinguishing racial and partisan motivations, when African-Americans overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.

The justices soon could be asked to decide whether the Constitution also prohibits electoral maps that are too partisan, in a case from Wisconsin.

Justices on both sides of the divide voiced a certain fatigue with the issue. Justice Samuel Alito suggested states are being held to an impossible standard that is “just an invitation for litigation in every one of these instances.”

Justice Stephen Breyer said he had hoped his majority opinion in a case from Alabama “would end these cases in this court, which it certainly doesn’t seem to have done.” Breyer said lawmakers could not take not a “mechanically numerical” approach to redistricting.

In Virginia, lawmakers in 2011 used the results of the 2010 census to create 12 districts in which African-Americans made up at least 55 percent of the population of eligible voters, saying that level was necessary to ensure they could elect their candidate of choice. Black voters who sued contended lawmakers packed the districts with black voters, making other districts whiter and more Republican. The effect was to dilute black voting strength, they said.

Arguing for the Virginia challengers, attorney Marc Elias said the lower court was wrong to uphold a “one size fits all” standard regardless of the different voting patterns and demographics across the 12 districts.

He drew support from Justice Elena Kagan. “It sort of defies belief you could pick a number and say that applies with respect to every majority-minority district,” Kagan said.

Paul Clement, representing Virginia, said 55 percent actually is a reasonable number for all 12 districts. “So it’s not like this number comes out of thin air,” Clement said.

Nine of the 12 districts had greater black populations under the plan in effect before the 2010 census, and two others were at least 53 percent black.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who appeared to favor the state, questioned whether it is so easy to determine the most important reason for drawing a district a particular way when there are several considerations about its geographic size and shape, as well as the interests that unite its residents. “It’s easy to imagine situations where you cannot say that one dominates over all the others.”

The North Carolina case seemed to present more of a puzzle to the court. The lower court struck down two majority-black congressional districts, finding they relied too heavily on race.

The state, also represented by Clement, conceded the use of race in one district, but only to maintain a black-majority district. In the other, Clement said, race played no role at all in the creation of one district. “This was an avowedly political draw,” he said, meaning that Republicans who controlled the redistricting process wanted to leave the district in Democratic hands, so that the surrounding districts would be safer for Republicans.

Clement also suggested that the challenges in both cases were motivated more by Democratic politics than concerns about race.

Kennedy’s votes in redistricting cases can be hard to predict. He joined Breyer’s opinion in the Alabama case last year. In 2013, Kennedy sided with more conservative justices to effectively block a key component of the landmark Voting Rights Act that led to the election of African-Americans across the South. Its provisions requiring states to create and preserve districts in which minority voting groups can elect their candidate of choice remain in effect.

In North Carolina, the federal court also struck down some state House and Senate districts, and last week, those judges ordered new districts drawn and special elections held next year.

North Carolina Republicans have used the current districts to achieve veto-proof majorities in both chambers. In addition, they hold 10 of the state’s 13 congressional seats. By contrast, statewide contests suggest a narrower gap between the parties. Two Republicans won statewide elections last month, President-elect Donald Trump with just under 50 percent of the vote and Sen. Richard Burr with 51 percent. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday conceded defeat in his closely fought bid for another term.

Decisions in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, 15-680, and McCrory v. Harris, 15-1262, are expected by early summer.

Federal court weighs key decision on LGBT-workplace bias

A rare full-court session of a U.S. appeals court in Chicago heard arguments this week on whether protections under a 1964 Civil Rights Act should be expanded to cover workplace discrimination against LGBT employees, as hopes dim among some gay rights activists that the question will be resolved in their favor following Republican election victories.

Several of the 11 judges at the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals signaled they are ready to enter what would be a historic ruling broadening the scope the 52-year-old landmark law, with the court directing the toughest questions during the hourlong hearing at a lawyer who argued only Congress could extend the protections.

Judge Richard Posner repeatedly interrupted the lawyer representing an Indiana community college that was sued by a lesbian for alleged discrimination and at one point asked: “Who will be hurt if gays and lesbians have a little more job protection?” When attorney John Maley said he couldn’t think of anyone who would be harmed, Posner shot back, “So, what’s the big deal?”

Even if the 7th Circuit becomes the first U.S. appellate court to rule that the law covers sexual-orientation bias, legal experts say the issue is likely to land before the Supreme Court. Chances of a majority of justices agreeing that workplace protections should include LGBT workers will be slimmer if President-elect Donald Trump fills a high court vacancy with a social conservative.

A GOP-majority House and Senate also makes it unlikely the next Congress will amend the statute, said Chicago-based labor lawyer Barry Hartstein.

“You can’t count on Congress or the courts,” said Hartstein, who wants the act to cover LGBT workers.

President Barack Obama’s administration has taken the position that the law already prohibits discrimination of LGBT workers. It has criticized courts for a reluctance to reach the same conclusion.

The 7th Circuit decided in October to rehear the case of teacher Kimberly Hively, who claimed Ivy Tech Community College didn’t hire her full time because she is a lesbian. The full court vacated the July finding by three of its own judges that the civil rights law doesn’t cover sexual-orientation bias. A new ruling is expected within several weeks.

The hearing focused on the meaning of the word ‘sex’ in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the provision that bans workplace bias based on race, religion, national origin or sex. Multiple court rulings back Maley’s contention that Congress meant for the word to refer only to whether a worker was male or female. Given that, he said it would be wrong to stretch the meaning of ‘sex’ in the statute to also include sexual orientation.

The school’s lawyer conceded the law is imprecise, but added: “That makes it an issue for Congress.”

Several judges challenged him for arguing it’s not a federal court’s place to mandate that a law do something lawmakers didn’t originally intend for it to do.

“You seem to think the meaning of the statute was frozen on the day it passed,” Posner said to Maley. “That, of course, is false.” And the judge added: “Are we bound by what people thought in 1964?”

He and other judges pointed to bans on interracial marriage as examples of laws that changed or were expanded by courts as societal norms changed.

In his presentation, the teacher’s lawyer pointed to what he described as the absurdity of one 1980s Supreme Court finding that if workers are discriminated against because they don’t behave around the office by norms of how men or women should behave, then that does violate the Civil Rights Law. But if a man or woman is discriminated against at work for being gay that was found not to violate the Civil Rights Act.

“You can’t discriminate against a woman because she rides a Harley, had Bears tickets or has tattoos,” attorney Gregory Nevins said. “But you can if she’s lesbian.”

 

Groups challenge abortion restrictions in 3 states

Abortion rights groups filed three lawsuits challenging medically unnecessary abortion restrictions in Alaska, Missouri and North Carolina.

This follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which struck down two Texas laws that devastated access to abortion in the state. Since the ruling, abortion restrictions in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Oklahoma and Wisconsin were blocked.

The lawsuits involve the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU and challenge the following:

  • Medically unnecessary Alaska restrictions, passed more than 40 years ago, that ban abortion in outpatient health centers after the first trimester of pregnancy, forcing many women to travel out of state for procedures.
  • A ban on abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy in North Carolina which was recently amended to further restrict the already narrow health exception to extremely limited health emergencies.
  • Medically unnecessary restrictions in Missouri that have closed all but one health center that provides abortion in the state.

“Today’s filing is a major step in the fight to ensure all women can get safe and legal abortions in their own communities, when they need them,” stated Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.  “We are a nation of laws, and the center is prepared to use the full force of the law to ensure women’s fundamental rights are protected and respected.  We are proud to stand with our partners in challenging these unconstitutional measures and vow to continue the fight for women’s health, equality, and dignity.”

At Planned Parenthood Federation of America, chief medical officer Raegan McDonald-Mosley said, “These restrictions have a disproportionate impact on those who already face far too many barriers to health care as people of color, people who live in rural areas, or people with low incomes. These laws are dangerous, unjust, and unconstitutional — and they will come down.”

Added Jennifer Dalven of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project: “With the cases we are filing today, we are sending a clear message that we won’t stop working until every woman can get the care she needs no matter who she is, where she lives, or how much money she makes.”

In the Alaska case,  Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaiian Islands is represented by Janet Crepps of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Brigitte Amiri of the ACLU, Carrie Flaxman of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Tara Rich and Eric Glatt of the ACLU of Alaska, and Susan Orlansky of Reeves, Amodio, LLC.

In the North Carolina case, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic is represented by Maithreyi Ratakonda and Carrie Flaxman of Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Beverly Gray, M.D. and Elizabeth Deans, M.D. are represented by Andrew Beck of the ACLU; Amy Bryant M.D., M.S.C.R., is represented by Genevieve Scott and Julie Rikelman of the Center for Reproductive Rights; Irena Como and Christopher Brook of the ACLU of North Carolina is representing all plaintiffs.

In the Missouri case, Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains and Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region are represented by Melissa Cohen and Jennifer Sandman of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Arthur Benson of Arthur Benson & Associates.

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that women have a constitutional right to decide whether to end or continue a pregnancy and states cannot ban abortion prior to viability.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court refused to review North Dakota’s ban on abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy and Arkansas’ ban on abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy that had been struck down by lower courts.

The Supreme Court’s Whole Woman’s Health decision also affirmed that states cannot pass sham restrictions on abortion.

Tough turf lessons: Assessing the GOP, Democratic ground games in Wisconsin

Seven months ago, as Wisconsin Republicans looked ahead to the upcoming presidential election, they focused on the state’s nonpartisan race for the state Supreme Court as a test run of sorts.

They figured out the most effective way to identify and register Republicans with a low likelihood of voting and persuade independents to get to the polls. They analyzed where and when to put resources into the field. They looked at how best to spend on mailings and phone calls.

“When we looked at the Supreme Court race, it was an opportunity for us to fine-tune our operation,” said Mark Morgan, state director for the Republican National Committee.

Conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley won by more than 95,000 votes in April.

In November, Republican Donald Trump eked out a much tighter victory — just over 27,000 votes — against Hillary Clinton.

Republicans, both nationally and in Wisconsin, say the difference-maker for Trump was the ground game, which they built for more than a decade, first with a series of recall elections in 2011 and 2012 and honed with the Supreme Court race.

The Wisconsin GOP has a reputation as one of the best state party operations because of it, said Luke Martz, a Republican consultant who worked in eight states.

“They run a very tight ship,” said Martz, who was Bradley’s campaign manager and noted that though that race benefited from the party’s work, there was no coordination. “They know what they’re doing. They know how to win races.”

While Republicans revel in victory, Democrats are trying to chart a path forward as they look ahead to 2018, when they’ll have to defend U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s seat and attempt to win back the governor’s office.

The state spokeswoman from Clinton talked up Democrats’ efforts despite November’s outcome.

“Democrats up and down the ticket were supported by a robust organizing operation and an incredible volunteer network across Wisconsin,” said Gillian Drummond, who also is a longtime Wisconsin Democratic operative. “From phone banks in small towns to knocking doors in cities and organizing events everywhere in between, the Democratic operation was second to none.”

The Republican ground game can’t be credited for all of their success.

Clinton underperformed President Barack Obama’s 2012 totals in Democratic counties. Key voters — young people, women, African-Americans and Hispanics — did not turn out in the numbers she needed to win.

Plus, Democrats had to raise money without any visits from Clinton or the Obamas — the first presidential election since 1972 when one of the major party candidates skipped the state.

Still, the Republican track record in Wisconsin since 2010 shows:

  • Scott Walker winning three elections, including a recall.
  • Johnson twice, the second in a presidential year.
  • Republicans flipping control of the Legislature.

They now have their largest Senate majority since 1971 and their biggest in the Assembly since 1957.

Republicans shifted their strategy in 2004 after party leaders realized they couldn’t win elections just through television advertising alone, GOP operative Mark Graul said. Republicans have invested in sophisticated data analytics to target the right voters at their homes, contacts that are more effective than phone calls, Graul said.

Republicans also instituted a “turf model” or “neighborhood team” approach that divided the state into 99 different regions.

“We didn’t leave any stone unturned,” said Juston Johnson, the national party’s regional political director for Wisconsin. “We went into communities that we haven’t necessarily been in before.”

The GOP state operation wasn’t daunted like others after the 2012 presidential election, when Obama carried Wisconsin by 7 points. It kept the infrastructure for the 2014 midterm races and increased permanent staffing and number of offices in 2015.

Ultimately, the program went from four offices and eight staffers to 40 offices with 162 paid staff and trained organizers, Morgan said.

Republicans made 4.7 million voter contacts this election cycle, including knocking on 1 million doors in the final five weeks of the race, Morgan said. In 2012, less than half that many doors were knocked on in the final five weeks.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, of Janesville, provided a critical boost by funneling $1 million from his re-election fund to the state party.

Conventional wisdom among political operatives is that a solid ground game will, at best, yield up to 3 points in an election.

Trump won Wisconsin by less than a point and Republican Sen. Ron Johnson won by 3.4 points.

“The early investments paid off,” Morgan said. “The infrastructure is second to none.”

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.”

Searching for clues, answers in Trump Country

Judy Pennington voted for Barack Obama in 2008, decades after her grandfather dug up and sold coal from his property. Elliott County, Kentucky, had followed the rest of the country into a deep recession, and Pennington “thought somebody young could bring new ideas in for the country.”

“But we didn’t get new ideas. We didn’t get anything,” she says.

On Nov. 8, Pennington was one of the voters who helped the county shift from voting for Democrats since its founding in 1869 to choosing Republican Donald Trump in 2016. Seventy percent backed Trump in a county Barack Obama won twice.

In interviews with The Associated Press, Elliott County residents provided clues to the results that handed Trump the presidency: They felt left behind the nation’s recovery, disappointed in Obama and infuriated by Clinton’s vow to put coal miners “out of business.” They like the way Trump talks and they like what they heard him say: That he’ll create jobs, and correct what they see as the wrongs of NAFTA and corrupt government. The New York City businessman made the sale with these rural voters who still reject congressional and state Republicans when there are other choices.

“If Trump was able to win in Elliott County, that really underscores how his message resonated across the country,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky’s longest-serving U.S. senator — who has never been able to win Elliott County in his 31-year Senate career. “He ended up being able to do what most of us thought was impossible, which was to appeal to significant numbers of white working-class voters, many of them, I suppose, never had voted for any Republican before.”

In theory, Pennington and her neighbors could be the best-represented Americans in Washington next year.

They are Trump’s base — nearly all-white and working class. Despite vexing McConnell with its “resistance,” the county by definition has as its advocate the most powerful man in the Senate. The House of Representatives and the White House are also Republican.

But what residents of the county’s hollows want from those soon to be in power is rooted in its coal-infused past. The aftermaths of the Civil War and the Great Depression hit hard here, offset by the New Deal’s government-supported projects, organized labor, agriculture and the coal industry — now more a cultural influence than the economic engine it was for generations.

That’s why Clinton’s remark at a town hall event in West Virginia — “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” stung — even after she apologized, said U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican who represents the county.

“The super PACs did an excellent job of playing that quote over and over and over, and that’s all anyone could think about after a while,” said state Rep. Rocky Adkins, a Democrat who represents Elliott in the state House. “That tells people, ‘That person is against me. That person is not for my family.”

Over the last decade while most of the country pulled itself out of the recession, Elliott County did not. AK Steel, one of the largest employers in the region, idled its plant in nearby Ashland. The Big Sandy power plant in Louisa, which once propped up the eastern Kentucky economy with its massive coal purchases, started using natural gas. Now one of the county’s largest employers is a state prison just outside of town, and many of the county’s residents have to travel out of state to find work. Unemployment in Elliott County stands at 11 percent, more than twice the national rate of 4.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Median household income is just north of $28,000, a bit more than half of the national median.

More than 85 percent of registered voters in Elliott County are Democrats. Republicans make up 8 percent.

In the 2016 election, Elliott went with other parts of the state to elect Trump and send Rogers, who was unopposed, back to Washington. But it’s still a rebel county in some ways. Trump was the only Republican to win a contested race in Elliott County. Jim Gray, a gay, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, beat Republican Sen. Rand Paul by more than 12 percentage points in the county, while Paul won re-election. And though 17 incumbent Democrats lost their state House seats and handed Republicans control for the first time in 96 years, Elliott County re-elected Adkins with more than 85 percent of the vote.

With Trump, Pennington said she finally found a candidate she believed spoke directly to her.

“He talked and talked like the other candidates would have liked to have said, but they never did. He was just plainspoken,” she said.

For Phillip Justice, Trump fits snugly into his worldview. The 54-year-old retired state worker and small business owner sees injustice everywhere, whether it is who starts for the local high school basketball team or his son’s ability to get a college scholarship.

“I’m tired of putting in my 8, 10 hours a day and being dependable, and you go home and your neighbor has got as much or more that don’t do nothing,” he said. “I look for (Trump) to say, ‘Hey, you people that are on the draw, you are going to go to work and earn your check.’”

Justice is not a Republican voter, although he votes for Republicans.

Eugene Dickerson, an Elliott County native who owns a coal mine in West Virginia, has been voting for Republican candidates since 2000. He said Trump’s surprising surge there could be attributed to the county’s conservative mindset, abetted by its abundance of churches, that unites people around issues like abortion and gay marriage.

“I think appointment of Supreme Court really was the driving force behind Donald Trump carrying Elliott County,” he said.

Others see Trump as someone who represents their interests.

“I’m not expecting (Trump) to be a pastor,” Justice said. “But I’m not expecting him to be a dictator.”

With presidential pen, Trump could remake Supreme Court agenda

Even before Donald Trump chooses a Supreme Court nominee, the new president can take steps to make several contentious court cases go away. Legal challenges involving immigration, climate change, cost-free contraceptive care and transgender rights all could be affected, without any help from Congress.

The cases turn on Obama administration policies that rely on the president’s pen, regulations or decisions made by federal agencies.

And what one administration can do, the next can undo.

It is not uncommon for the court’s docket to change when one party replaces the other in the White House. That change in direction is magnified by the high-court seat Trump will get to fill after Senate Republicans refused to consider President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland.

“We were hoping we’d be looking forward to a progressive majority on the Supreme Court. After the election results, there is a new reality,” said Elizabeth Wydra, president of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center.

The Supreme Court already is set to consider a case involving a transgender teen who wants to use the boys’ bathroom at his Virginia high school. When the federal appeals court in Richmond ruled in student Gavin Grimm’s favor this year, it relied on a determination by the U.S. Education Department that federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education also applies to gender identity.

The new administration could withdraw the department’s guidance, which could cause the justices to return the case to the lower courts to reach their own decision about whether the law requires schools to allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity.

“It is possible, maybe even likely, that if the first question went away, then the court would send case back to the 4th circuit” in Richmond, said Steven Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Grimm.

Trump already has pledged to undo Obama’s plan to shield millions of people living in the country without documentation from deportation and to make them eligible for work permits. The Supreme Court, down to eight members after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February, split 4 to 4 in June over the plan. The tie vote effectively killed the plan for Obama’s presidency because lower federal courts had previously blocked it.

But the issue remains a live one in the legal system, and supporters of the Obama plan had hoped that a new Clinton administration would press forward.

Now, though, all Trump has to do is rescind the Obama team’s actions, which would leave the courts with nothing to decide.

A similar fate may be in store for the current administration’s efforts to get cost-free birth control to women who are covered by health plans from religiously-affiliated educational and charitable organizations. The justices issued an unusual order in the spring that directed lower courts across the country to seek a compromise to end the legal dispute. The groups already can opt out of paying for contraception, but they say that option leaves them complicit in providing government-approved contraceptives to women covered by their plans.

The new administration could be more willing to meet the groups’ demands, which would end the controversy.

Women’s contraceptives are among a range of preventive services that the Obama health overhaul requires employers to cover in their health plans. All of that now is at risk, since Trump has called for repeal of the health care law.

Obama’s Clean Power Plan, calling for cuts in carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants, also could be rolled back once Trump is in office.

The federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., is considering a challenge by two-dozen mostly Republican-led states that say Obama overstepped his authority. The Trump team could seek to undo the rules put in place by the Environmental Protection Agency and it could seek a delay in the litigation while doing so, said Sean Donahue, a lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund. Trump’s EPA would have to propose its own rules, which allow for public comment and legal challenges from those who object, Donahue said.

Environmental groups effectively fought rules that they said eased pollution limits during George W. Bush’s presidency.

As some issues pushed by Obama recede in importance, others that have been important to conservatives may get renewed interest at the court. Among those are efforts to impose new restrictions on public-sector labor unions and to strike down more campaign-finance limits, including the ban on unlimited contributions to political parties.