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Federal court indicates it wants Wisconsin's new political maps in place by March
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REDISTRICTING | FEDERAL LAWSUIT

Federal court indicates it wants Wisconsin's new political maps in place by March

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State Capitol

A federal judicial panel on Tuesday indicated it wants Wisconsin’s new political maps in place by March 1, calling for the completion of a potential redistricting trial by the end of January as lawmakers work to draw the new decennial legislative and congressional district boundaries.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson and two other federal judges on a panel signaled they think maps should be in place by March 1 in order for candidates to begin circulating nomination papers by April 15. The new maps would then be used for legislative and congressional candidates in an August 2022 primary election.

The Census Bureau released its data for 2020, and the findings show a diversifying nation with a migration pattern that will greatly affect its politics going forward. Poppy MacDonald, the president of non-profit data organization USAFacts, joined Cheddar to break down what the shifts mean in terms of congressional seats for states and the first time decline in the white population since 1790. "What we're seeing is we're becoming more diverse as a country, and we're also seeing a migration of population, more people going to the South and more people going to the West in terms of where they're moving," MacDonald said.

The judicial panel called for the attorneys representing the parties in the case — chiefly the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers, who together are responsible for passing new political maps, along with Democratic voters, activist groups and GOP congressmen — to come up with a schedule to complete a trial by the end of January in order to have maps in place by March 1.

March 15 is the statutory deadline for the Wisconsin Elections Commission to notify county clerks of which offices will be voted on in the November 2022 election and where information on district boundaries can be found.

The trial, however, likely wouldn’t need to occur if the GOP-controlled Legislature and governor pass a set of legislative and congressional maps before then. Peterson, however, noted that is unlikely.

“If history is any guide, to put it mildly, there’s at least a substantial likelihood that divided government in the state of Wisconsin will have trouble, as it has in the past, drawing its own maps,” Peterson said.

Peterson told the parties in the case that a trial needs to be finished by the end of January in order for the court to render a decision by March 1, though the panel said it would entertain motions arguing that the deadline could be extended later.

The three-judge panel includes Peterson, appointed by former President Barack Obama; U.S. Circuit Court Judge Amy St. Eve, appointed by former President Donald Trump; and U.S. District Court Judge Edmond Chang, appointed by Obama.

At Tuesday’s hearing, an attorney for the Republican-controlled Legislature gave little indication of when it would pass a set of maps to send to the governor. He said GOP lawmakers are considering appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out the redistricting case.

Evers has created his own People’s Maps Commission, which expects to produce a set of alternative maps by mid-October for the Legislature’s and court’s consideration.

Lawsuit filed

The hearing on Tuesday was for a consolidated redistricting case brought by Democratic voters and activist groups, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, Voces de La Frontera, the League of Women Voters and others.

The consolidated lawsuit, filed in August, asks the federal court to invalidate Wisconsin’s current political maps and draw new ones if the Legislature and governor don’t agree on a plan in time for implementing new decennial maps.

The case was filed a day after the U.S. Census Bureau released the detailed population information that will aid lawmakers in drawing Wisconsin’s next decennial legislative and congressional districts.

Specifically, the lawsuit contends that Wisconsin’s Assembly, Senate and congressional districts are in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s one-person, one-vote principle due to population shifts that have occurred in Wisconsin over the past 10 years. Because of those shifts, districts no longer have the same number of people living in them, a requirement under the law.

The lawsuit came at the earliest possible time because lawmakers weren’t able to draw districts until the release of the census data, which was delayed four months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It typically takes months after the release of the data for the Legislature to pass a set of political maps, which the governor would then need to sign or veto.

Plaintiffs contend that, because the Legislature is controlled by Republicans and the governor is a Democrat, the chances of a set of maps passing are slim.

People’s Maps Commission

Christopher Ford, chair of Evers’ People’s Maps Commission, which Evers said he created to provide more transparency and fairness in the map-drawing process — said commissioners have been working diligently during the past month to produce by Sept. 30 an initial set of state Assembly, Senate and congressional maps for public review. Once public input is received, the commission plans to produce final maps by mid-October.

Evers created the commission by executive order, and members do not include lawmakers, lobbyists or party officials. Wisconsin law doesn’t give the commission an official role in the redistricting process, but Evers and advocates want it to present a less partisan set of maps for consideration by the Legislature and possibly the courts.

The Legislature has invited the People’s Maps Commission, as well as members of the public, to submit proposed maps by Oct. 15 for consideration.

Wisconsin’s current political maps give a strong advantage to Republicans, who also benefit from some geographic advantages.

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