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Democrats ask Wisconsin Supreme Court to order new congressional maps for fall election

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Posted at 10:17 AM, Jan 17, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-17 11:17:58-05

MADISON (AP) — A Washington law firm that tries to help Democrats win elections around the country has asked the liberal-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court to throw out the battleground state's congressional maps, arguing that the court's decision last month ordering new state legislative maps opens the door to the latest challenge.

The redistricting lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Elias Law Group on behalf of Democratic voters comes less than a month after the court threw out the state legislative maps. Consultants hired by the court are reviewing seven proposed new maps.

Litigation is ongoing in more than dozen states over U.S. House and state legislative districts that were enacted after the 2020 census.

In last month's ruling, the Wisconsin Supreme Court said the earlier conservative-controlled court was wrong in 2021 to say that maps drawn that year should have as little change as possible from the maps that were in place at the time. The new lawsuit says that decision warrants replacing the congressional district maps that were drawn under the “least change” requirement.

Using the “least change” approach resulted in congressional maps that “perpetuated and exacerbated the partisan unfairness that has robbed Wisconsin voters of fair congressional districts for over a decade,” Abha Khanna, an attorney with Elias Law Group, said in a statement.

Six of the state's eight congressional seats are held by Republicans. In 2010, the year before Republicans redrew the maps, Democrats held five seats compared with three for Republicans.

Only two of the state's current congressional districts are seen as competitive.

Western Wisconsin's 3rd District is represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden, who won an open seat in 2022 after longtime Democratic Rep. Ron Kind retired.

And southeastern Wisconsin's 1st District, held by Republican Rep. Bryan Steil since 2019, was made more competitive under the latest maps but still favors Republicans.

Both seats have been targeted by national Democrats.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, whose district includes the liberal stronghold of Madison, voiced his support for the lawsuit on X, formerly Twitter.

“Wisconsin is a purple state, but our current congressional district maps don’t reflect that,” he posted. He said the lawsuit aims to “make our congressional districts fair to all Wisconsinites.”

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is under an extremely tight deadline to consider the challenge. State elections officials have said that new maps must be in place by March 15 in order for candidates and elections officials to adequately prepare for the Aug. 13 primary. Candidates can start circulating nomination papers on April 15.

The lawsuit argues that there is time for the court to accept map submissions and select one to be in place for the November election.

Doing that “will fulfill this Court’s constitutional duty to independently adjudicate the validity of Wisconsin’s congressional maps,” the lawsuit states. “Failing to act will double down on a now-discredited legal principle and subject Wisconsin voters to a full decade under congressional maps that lack any basis in Wisconsin law.”

Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Brian Schimming argued that the court should not hear the case, but said that if it does, the GOP would go the U.S. Supreme Court to maintain the current congressional maps.

“The newly bought and paid for liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court faces yet another test of the public’s trust: do the right thing by leaving the current, constitutional maps in place, or once again abandon sound judgment by catering to their left-wing out-of-state donors," Schimming in a statement Wednesday.

Mike Marinella, spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee, accused Democrats of trying "to bend the rules to achieve power.

“Wisconsin Democrats can’t win these House seats on their own, so they’re focusing on gerrymandering to help themselves instead of running on policies that help Wisconsinites," he said.

The current congressional maps in Wisconsin were drawn by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and approved by the state Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court in March 2022 declined to block them from taking effect.

Elias Law Group is chaired by Marc Elias, a longtime attorney for Democrats who has filed election and voting access lawsuits in Wisconsin and across the country. Elias was the attorney for John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign and Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign. He also was the attorney for President Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic National Committee acting in response to lawsuits filed by former President Donald Trump following the 2020 election.