A conservative law firm plans to file a lawsuit against the city in federal court Wednesday over Madison’s new police civilian oversight board.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty argues that Madison’s decision to reserve seats on the board for Black, Asian, Latinx and Native American people constitutes a racial quota and is unconstitutional.
“Racial quotas and classifications — enshrined in this city law and the official policy of the city — are unconstitutional, offensive, and repugnant to basic American values,” the law firm said in a statement. “The city of Madison has not identified a compelling government interest that would justify racial quotas."
The 13-member civilian oversight board was created last year in a years-in-the-making decision meant to bring more accountability to the Madison Police Department. In addition to hiring an independent police monitor, the board will conduct an annual review of the police chief and make policy recommendations to police, among other responsibilities. Most recently, the oversight board finalized the job description for the police monitor position.
According to the ordinance creating the oversight board, the body has to include at least one African American, Asian, Latinx and Native American member. The City Council also required that at least half of the board include Black people — a recommendation from an alder workgroup developing logistical and operational details for civilian oversight.
Madison Attorney Michael Haas said in a statement Tuesday the law firm can’t “dispute that for decades communities of color have had more police contact and higher rates of incarceration than anyone else in our society.”
He said this is not a case on school admissions or preferential government contracting and about “ensuring safe, fair, and humane policing” for everyone — “a compelling governmental interest if ever there was one.”
“The city created and composed the Civilian Oversight Board to further this government interest by ensuring it gets insight and recommendations from its communities of color,” Haas said. “The members are volunteers who are helping the city engage in community consultation so that the city can improve public safety for everyone.”
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said WILL is “against common-sense public health measures.”
“They want (to) tear down the Civilian Oversight Board because they don't recognize the expertise that over-policed communities bring to a conversation about over-policing,” Rhodes-Conway said.
WILL officially told Madison in January that it would sue if the city didn’t change requirements for the board.
The complaint argues that the plaintiff, conservative Madison blogger David Blaska, was not selected for the board though he had the necessary qualifications.
“Because he is white, Plaintiff was ineligible for nine of the eleven Board positions,” according to the complaint.
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