Federal court says Wisconsin redistricting case can proceed

A federal court panel on Thursday denied a request from Wisconsin Republicans to dismiss a lawsuit over the state’s voting maps, keeping alive a legal challenge brought by Democratic allies and voting rights advocates.  

In its ruling, the three-judge panel also granted a request from Wisconsin Gov. Tony EversTony EversWisconsin Democratic governor vetoes restrictive abortion bills DA: Setting 'inappropriately low' bail for suspect in parade attack 'resulted in a tragedy' Wisconsin Supreme Court hands win to GOP in key ruling on new congressional maps MORE (D) and the state's five GOP U.S. congressmen to intervene in the partisan court clash over the once-per-decade redistricting process, which involves drawing new legislative and congressional districts.  

The judicial panel on Thursday also combined a pair of similar cases that allege Wisconsin’s GOP-held legislature and Democratic governor are unlikely to agree on new maps in time for the 2022 election, with the litigation seeking to preempt a potential impasse. 

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The litigation claims that Wisconsin’s current map is malapportioned, meaning the population of its districts are illegally lopsided, and asks a court to redraw the state’s political boundaries if bipartisan efforts fail. 

In rejecting Republicans’ dismissal request Thursday, the judges noted that federal courts have intervened in the last three redistricting cycles when control of Wisconsin government has been divided, as it is now.

“Given this historical pattern, and the urgent requirement of prompt action, the panel will deny the Legislature’s motion to dismiss,” the panel wrote in its nine-page ruling. “The court and the parties must prepare now to resolve the redistricting dispute, should the state fail to establish new maps in time for the 2022 elections.”

The judges said that at a later date they may be inclined to grant Republicans’ and their allies’ request to temporarily halt the federal lawsuit to give the legislative process — and perhaps state courts — a chance to fashion new maps. But the panel on Thursday declined to pause the proceedings indefinitely.

A hearing in the case is set for Tuesday.

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The decennial process of redistricting kicked off last month with the publication of Census Bureau data, whose release was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic and which set off a scramble to construct new political boundaries ahead of the midterms.

Wisconsin’s political maps are among the most gerrymandered in the country, according to experts. Republicans in recent years have won just around half the vote for legislative seats statewide but nearly two-thirds of the districts themselves; they hold 61 of 99 seats in the state Assembly after winning 54 percent of the popular vote.