A four-day trial over the fairness of Wisconsin’s 2011 legislative redistricting plan ended Friday with impassioned closing arguments by lawyers for Democratic voters, urging a three-judge panel to find the plan to be an unconstitutional gerrymander that deprives state Democrats of a level playing field.
But the arguments will continue in writing, and it could take months before the panel, which heard the case this week in U.S. District Court, issues a ruling.
The ranking judge on the panel, Senior Judge Kenneth Ripple of the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, gave each side two weeks to file final briefs, and then 10 days after that to respond to one another’s briefs.
“We’ll certainly give this our full attention,” said Ripple, before he and the other judges — U.S. Chief Judge William Griesbach of Milwaukee and U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of Madison — left the bench following closing arguments.
Ripple did not say when the panel would rule.
The trial consisted mainly of experts from each side explaining the calculations that they made to support their opinions, then taking questions from the opponent’s lawyers trying to undercut those opinions. At times, it was a tedious recitation of figures from spreadsheets and maps, but the testimony occasionally became somewhat testy as questions became more pointed.
Late Friday afternoon, each side summed up where they saw the case. The Democrats contended that they found a way to measure unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders designed to give an extreme and durable advantage to one party, a measurement that the U.S. Supreme Court has said in the past it was lacking.
Many times since the case was initially filed, Democrats referred to the 2011 redistricting plan as “one of the worst partisan gerrymanders in modern American history.”
“We have a case that fits the elusive test that the Court has been looking for,” said Gerald Hebert, director of litigation at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., one of several lawyers representing the Democrats.
That measure, called the efficiency gap, shows how cracking (breaking up blocs of Democratic voters) and packing (concentrating Democrats within certain districts), results in wasted votes — excess votes for one party in safe districts and votes for losing candidates in those safe districts.
His voice rising at times, Hebert told the court that the redistricting plan was drawn up clearly to disenfranchise Democratic voters, and rushed through the Legislature to beat a recall election of Gov. Scott Walker.
No state legislators testified “to justify what they did,” Hebert said. On Memorial Day weekend, he told the judges, when Americans celebrate freedom and the sacrifice of its soldiers, “let us honor their memory by holding our government accountable to these ideals.”
But Assistant Attorney General Brian Keenan said that after all the testimony and evidence, the panel would find that the makeup of the Legislature with a large Republican majority is still simply the result of natural political trends.
He didn’t deny that the GOP drew political lines to its advantage. As the majority party, he said, Republicans can draw the map any way they choose, short of creating districts that disenfranchise racial minorities.
“All the plaintiffs can show is that they can draw a plan that has a better outcome for the party that’s not in control,” he said.
“The things that the plaintiffs try to paint as bad are just part of the normal political process,” Keenan said.
And he repeated the testimony of the state’s expert witnesses, that voters are just voting more for Republicans, and those voters are spread out across the state more than Democrats.