A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin today upheld all but two state legislative districts drawn by a Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature. It also upheld a congressional redistricting map. The panel lamented on the secrecy and partisan nature of this cycle’s redistricting process and harkened back to “a time when Wisconsin was famous for its courtesy and its tradition of good government,” but ultimately ruled the maps did not violate the law, save a violation of federal law requiring a change to Assembly districts 8 and 9 in Milwaukee County. Under the panel’s decision, the redistricting maps will not take effect for voting purposes until the November elections – meaning they won’t be in place for any recall elections that take place before November – unless a state court rules otherwise.
The Wisconsin Legislature reapportioned the state legislative and congressional districts through 2011 Wisconsin Act 43 (state) and 2011 Wisconsin Act 44 (congressional) in August 2011. Redistricting maps, once established, control representation and elections for 10 years. States must reapportion both state legislative and congressional districts to account for changes and shifts in population, as determined by each decennial census. Wisconsin has eight congressional districts, 99 state Assembly districts, and 33 state Senate districts.
A basic requirement is that redistricting maps be relatively equal in population, giving each voter in each district equal voting power, known as the “one person, one vote rule.” The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 protects the voting power of racial and minority groups. The state constitution also requires that new districts meet other redistricting criteria.
Democratic voters and a Latino rights group, Voces de la Frontera, quickly challenged the lawfulness of Act 43’s state legislative districts. Wisconsin’s Democrat members of the House of Representatives – Tammy Baldwin, Ron Kind, and Gwen Moore – challenged Act 44. The case went to trial in federal district court on Feb. 23-24.