Three federal judges unanimously ruled Thursday election maps drawn last year by Republican lawmakers for two districts on Milwaukee’s south side violated Latinos’ voting rights and must be redrawn.
However, the court approved all other legislative and congressional districts drawn by legislators last year, according to a court order.
In a court opinion, the three-judge panel also strongly criticized Republicans’ secretive methods for developing the maps. Almost all Republican leaders signed secrecy agreements while the maps were being drawn, guaranteeing they would not discuss the matter with Democrats or the public.
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, said there was speculation more would be done to change the maps, considering how firmly the court scolded Republicans for their lack of transparency.
“That said, Republicans should be pleased because the map that they drew, which is strongly pro-Republican, was largely kept intact,” Heck said.
The suit was filed against Republicans by a group of Democratic citizens and Voces de la Frontera, an immigrants’ rights group. Both parties filed separate suits, but they were later combined.
The plaintiffs argued that by dividing Latinos into two Assembly districts, the Legislature violated the federal Voting Rights Act. If kept, the opinion said, this division would weaken the power of Latino voters in the relevant districts and force them to wait six years to vote in state Senate elections, instead of the usual four.
Voces de la Frontera attorney Peter Earle said his client was satisfied with the court’s ruling to redraw the lines for Milwaukee’s south-side districts. Earle said they would not appeal the decision.
Since the regular legislative session has ended, lawmakers will have to hold a special session to address the problem, the opinion said. Both parties will have to work together to redraw the lines for the districts as the Senate is now evenly divided. If lawmakers choose not to meet for an extraordinary session, the courts will draw the maps.
If the ruling is appealed, it will go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a statement from Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.
Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona, said in a statement the Federal Court confirmed Democrats were kept from participating in the redistricting process.
“The Federal Court confirmed today what we’ve maintained all along: The Republicans, behind closed doors, without input from any Democrats and at great expense to the taxpayers of Wisconsin, concocted unconstitutional legislative maps,” Miller said in the statement. “Their secretive efforts have failed Wisconsin.”
However, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, said in a joint statement the ruling found 130 out of 132 districts were constitutional.
Republican legislators are working with the Department of Justice to explore how to redraw Milwaukee’s south side district lines, the statement said.
“It’s vindicating to have a ruling that finds 130 out of 132 districts constitutional, in addition to all eight Congressional districts,” the statement said. “Our state constitution requires new district maps every 10 years to reflect changing population, and that’s exactly what the Legislature delivered.”