November 22, 2016
A panel of federal judges on Monday tossed the redistricting maps that Scott Walker and Republican legislative leaders have used to solidify their hold on power in Wisconsin.
By a vote of 2-1, the judges sided with the plaintiffs, a group of Democratic voters in Wisconsin, in the so-called Whitford case.
At trial in June, the plaintiffs demonstrated that the Republican leadership, with grossly partisan intent, designed district maps that greatly increased the likelihood that Republicans would pad their majority of seats in the legislature even if a majority of voters statewide voted Democratic.
The trial also showed that this rigged map-drawing was done in secret, behind locked doors in the posh offices of a high-priced Madison law firm, Michael Best & Friedrich. The public wasn’t allowed in. The media wasn’t allowed in. Democratic legislators weren’t allowed in. And Republican legislators had to sign an oath of secrecy once they were allowed in.
The resulting bill, signed by Walker, was called Act 43.
“It is clear that the drafters got what they intended to get,” concluded federal judges Barbara Crabb and Kenneth Ripple. “There is no question that Act 43 was designed to make it more difficult for Democrats, compared to Republicans, to translate their votes into seats. . . . It secured for Republicans a lasting Assembly majority. It did so by allocating votes among the newly created districts in such a way that, in any likely electoral scenario, the number of Republican seats would not drop below 50%.”
Judges Crabb and Ripple stressed the fact that the rigged map was designed to be durable:
“In sum, we conclude that the plaintiffs have established, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Act 43 burdens the representational rights of Democratic voters in Wisconsin by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats, not simply for one election but throughout the life of Act 43.”
And they found no legitimate state interest for the drawing of such a rigged map.
They also found the claim of innocence on the part of the Republican map drawers to be not credible in the least.
The defendants testified that their map “did not have a ‘forward-looking component,’ but was simply ‘an average of past elections applied to the new districts.’ We reject as not worthy of belief the assertion that the drafters would have expended the time to calculate a composite score for each district on the statewide maps simply to gain an historical understanding of voting behavior,” wrote Crabb and Ripple.
Even the dissenting judge, William Griesbach, agreed on this point.
“My colleagues rightly conclude that when political staffers compile historical voting information about potential districts, their claim that they did not intend to use that information to predict future voting patterns is hardly worthy of belief,” he wrote.
The majority decision by Crabb and Ripple did not provide a remedy as of yet. They have asked both sides to submit briefs on the subject.