State News

Wisconsin legislative districts ruled unconstitutional

A federal court ruled Monday that Wisconsin’s Republican-drawn legislative districts were unconstitutional, a major victory for state Democrats after losses at the polls on Election Day two weeks ago.

A three-judge panel of federal justices ruled 2-1 that the state Assembly districts drawn in 2011 “were intended to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters” and boosted the ability of Republicans to retain control of the state Legislature.

“Act 43 did, in fact, prevent Wisconsin Democrats from being able to translate their votes into seats as effectively as Wisconsin Republicans,” Circuit Court Judge William Ripple wrote in the decision.

Ripple said the court found the discriminatory nature of the redistricting to constitute an unconstitutional instance of gerrymandering.

“We find that the discriminatory effect is not explained by the political geography of Wisconsin nor is it justified by a legitimate state interest. Consequently, Act 43 constitutes an unconstitutional political gerrymander," Ripple wrote.

Ripple was joined by District Court Judge Barbara Crabb in the decision, with District Court Judge William Griesbach dissenting.

Griesbach wrote in the dissenting opinion that he felt Republicans would have succeeded even without favorable redistricting.

“I do not believe the Supreme Court would direct courts to meddle in a state districting plan … when the plan only modestly extends the map-drawing party’s electoral advantage beyond what would exist naturally,” he wrote. “This is particularly true given that the gerrymandering party very likely would have won both elections conducted under the challenged plan even without gerrymandering.”

The ruling did not issue a remedy, instead opting to give both parties an opportunity to weigh in on potential solutions.

State Democrats cheered the decision as a positive step toward preserving democracy.

“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,” said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, in a statement.

The state Department of Justice said they are reviewing the decision and planned on appealing the decision.

“The Department of Justice is evaluating the court’s 159-page decision and we plan to appeal,” said state Attorney General Brad Schimel in a statement. “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.”

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