A federal court gave groups suing the state broad access Monday to three computers used by the Legislature to develop Republican-friendly voting maps. The Legislature “must make these three computers available in their entirety immediately” to the groups suing the state, the three judges wrote. “The computers are extremely likely to contain relevant and responsive materials that should have been disclosed during pretrial discovery. Moreover, Plaintiffs have established that substantial numbers of documents were not disclosed, which satisfies the court that some form of ‘fraud, misrepresentation, or misconduct’ likely occurred,” the unanimous opinion said, quoting from a procedural rule. The ruling provided the latest setback for Republican lawmakers, who have consistently resisted releasing documents in the case. It will give the plaintiffs a chance to determine whether legislators and their attorneys improperly withheld additional documents before the case went to trial.
If additional documents are found – and they’re found to have been improperly withheld – that could get attorneys in trouble with the lawyer regulation system. If the documents prove particularly meaningful, they could reopen the underlying case over where the lines were drawn.
Once a decade, each state must draw new maps for legislative and congressional districts to account for population changes. Republicans controlled all of Wisconsin’s government in 2011, and they used their power to draw lines that were greatly beneficial to their party.
Even before Republicans announced their plan, a group of Democrats sued over the process the state was using. The immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera later sued as well, and the two cases were consolidated.
The panel of three federal judges ruled last year that two Assembly maps on Milwaukee’s south side violated the voting rights of Latinos. The court put in place new maps for those districts, but kept the rest of the state’s maps in place, allowing Republicans to largely keep districts helpful to them.
But after the ruling, the plaintiffs identified documents that should have been turned over to them but never were. Since then, they have been seeking an opportunity to forensically examine the computers used by the Legislature to draw the maps.