redistricting_AF_file

Rep. John Richards believes Republican lawmakers should have taken the opportunity to adjust the maps to alter the parts that are currently facing constitutional challenges. He said it should be a bipartisan effort.[/media-credit]

Republican legislators declined for the second time a chance given by federal courts to make adjustments to the new state voting maps passed last year, which opponents allege unfairly benefit Republican legislators.

The court, comprised of three judges, suggested Tuesday that Wisconsin Republicans adjust their maps by changing parts that are currently facing constitutional challenges. This would have allowed the Republicans to avoid a trial.

However, later Tuesday night, Republicans claimed they lacked the authority to make changes to the already approved maps.

On Wednesday morning, the federal courts ruled that Republican legislators did have that authority and gave them a deadline of 4 p.m. to decide whether they would adjust their maps or continue with the lawsuits the maps face.

Republicans chose to continue, so the trial will resume today.

“They like [the maps] because it provides partisan political advantage to them,” said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin. “It is designed to ensure that the Republicans will have control of the Legislature for years to come.”

Heck added the federal court was made up of two judges appointed by Republican presidents and one by a Democratic president, which he said would invalidate a potential argument by Republicans that the court was liberal.

One of the lawsuits against the maps was filed by Voces de la Frontera, a Wisconsin immigrants’ rights group, which claims the maps do not account for the growing Latino population in Wisconsin and therefore do not meet the federal Voting Rights Act.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Voces de la Frontera executive director, said they filed the lawsuit because the maps were drawn unfairly. She said they also filed the lawsuit because of the secretive process of drawing the maps.

“The court condemned the process by which the maps were done,” Neumann-Ortiz said. “They were not done in an open, transparent way that involved the public, the way it should be done.”

The lawsuit has already led to the release of previously secret emails between Republican aides and outside consultants on the drawing of the maps, as well as a secrecy pledge many Republican legislators signed to ignore public comments on the process.

Still, Dan Kelly, an attorney representing the Government Accountability Board, said even if the Republicans agreed to make changes to the maps, it would not necessarily be a satisfactory move to the rest of the public.

“There’s always going to be some group of people that want something different,” Kelly told the Associated Press.

He requested the judges consider whether newly-drawn maps could be approved by the court to avoid new challenges.

Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, criticized the latest Republican decision in a statement.

“It is time for an open, bipartisan redistricting process that respects Wisconsin communities,” Richards said in the statement. “I call on Republicans to tear up those oaths, tear down the walls of secrecy and create new maps that serve all the people of Wisconsin.”

Heck said he was hopeful that this recent news would lead to a reform of the redistricting process that would make it more independent.

He said Republicans should support the reforms or else they may lose votes.

“This is going to fuel the call for reform of the redistricting process,” Heck said. “If the Republicans are smart, they will support reform in this process, because if not, it will hurt them in the upcoming election.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.