by Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director
January 27, 2017
A federal district court today ordered the Wisconsin legislature to redraw the district maps of the state. The court gave the legislature and the governor till Nov. 1 of this year to get the job done.
The court was right to stress that “the people of Wisconsin already have endured several elections under an unconstitutional reapportionment scheme. If they are to be spared another such event, a new map must be drawn in time for the preparatory steps leading up to the election.”
But the court put too much faith in the ability of the Republican leaders in the legislature to devise maps that will pass constitutional muster. The plaintiffs in the case had asked the judges to draw the maps themselves on the grounds that the Republican leaders’ “illegal conduct in passing and defending” the original maps disqualified them from this task. The judges rejected that argument, asserting that the record in this case “contains no evidence of the malice or intransigence” that would justify the unusual remedy of taking the map-drawing out of the legislature’s hands.
The judges underestimate the maliciousness and intransigence of this crowd, I’m afraid.
The judges also refused to provide the legislature with detailed instructions about how to proceed with the new map-drawing, which is another mistake. At the very least, the judges should have required that the process be open to the public, with public hearings and an opportunity for public comment.
Let’s remember: The unconstitutional drawing of the maps was done not in the Capitol but in the offices of a pricy private law firm in Madison, Michael Best & Friedrich. It was done behind locked doors in what became known as “the map room.” The media was not allowed in. The public was not allowed in. The Democrats were not allowed in. Even Republican legislators had to ask to be let into the map room, and then they had to sign an oath of secrecy about what they saw in the map room.
That’s the opposite of democracy. And it’s not how this new map drawing should be done.