Revised Dec. 1, 2020
By Gretchen Schuldt
An effort to get the State Supreme Court to give itself the power to draw new legislative maps based on the pending census drew negative reactions from 40 organizations and individuals who submitted comments on the proposal before Monday's deadline.
There were just two comments favoring the proposal. One of them was by attorney Misha Tseytlin on behalf of Republican U.S. Representatives Glenn Grothman, Mike Gallagher, Bryan Steil, and Tom Tiffany and Rep.-elect Scott Fitzgerald.
Attorney Kevin M. St. John also filed comments in favor of the new rule. St. John was acting on behalf of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Fitzgerald, in his role as State Senate majority leader. Both Vos and Fitzgerald are Republicans.
Those two said the proposal protects the legislature’s and state's constitutionally conferred primary roles in redistricting, minimizes the potential for "federal court intrusion," and "promotes the sovereign interests of the citizens of this state."
Many of the comments opposing the change focused on the restrictions on public participation in the redistricting process.
The Wisconsin Justice Initiative, for example, said in its comments that the proposal "ultimately allows the Court to develop its own redistricting proposal, establish many of the rules for any public comment on the proposal, and approve the proposal. The petition leaves it unclear whether non-governmental interested groups or individuals would be allowed to file formal objections to any Court map or have any say on it at all, as their right to participate would be so severely limited."
The petition, filed by former State Rep. Scott Jensen, a Republican, and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, the conservative law firm, seeks to change the way redistricting disputes are handled by the courts.
Redistricting is a highly contentious legislative process that very often leads to legal battles. Republicans in Wisconsin have used the redistricting process to shape state and federal districts to give themselves maximum advantage in securing majorities in legislative bodies.
The petition, among other things, would allow many redistricting disputes to go directly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, bypassing federal courts and state lower courts and their fact-finding roles. The petition also would allow cases to begin even before there is an actual dispute, and would give the right to participate only to the Senate, Assembly, governor, and political parties – other interested organizations and individuals would require specific permission from the Court to have a say.
"WILL’s proposed changes would only allow for consideration of partisan interests rather than those of individual Wisconsinites and civic groups that can provide for knowledge about their regions and how certain redistricting of areas would affect them..." the Dane County Board said in comments submitted to the Court. "WILL’s proposed changes decrease transparency in the redistricting process and would allow the Court to bypass consideration of any views by groups other than elected officials and/or political parties."
"The rules, if adopted, will increase the politicization of the Court while they decrease the public trust in the redistricting process," the ACLU wrote.
The Supreme Court considered a similar petition previously and a majority of justices rejected it, the organization said.
"As Justice (David) Prosser stated during the 2009 rulemaking process, the Court taking original jurisdiction in redistricting cases would be a 'fundamental institutional mistake for this Court' as it would place the Court at the center of the political arena."
"The proposal ultimately allows the Court to develop its own redistricting proposal, establish many of the rules for any public comment on the proposal, and approve the proposal." – Wisconsin Justice Initiative
"If accepted," the ACLU continued, "the proposed rule will undermine the public’s trust in the Court and in the redistricting process. It is clear that the public wants a fair, impartial process: over the past few years, 34 county boards have passed resolutions, and voters in 28 Wisconsin counties and 19 municipalities throughout the state have passed referendums, in support of fair electoral maps and a non-partisan 2021-22 redistricting process."
"A traditional trial and appeals process to resolve redistricting challenges allows Wisconsin voters and groups to follow cases throughout the process and, if motivated and possible, get involved," Linda Laarman wrote. "Vesting judicial resolution in a single court — the Wisconsin Supreme Court — would diminish the ability to follow cases and participate in them."
Under the petition, the Supreme Court would have deadlines for actions on redistricting, but would be allowed to disregard most of the dates, she said.
"The rationale, according to the petition?" Laarman wrote. “ 'Because circumstances can always change.' ”
Below are excerpts from other comments submitted. The full comments can be found here.
League of Women Voters of Milwaukee County – "The proposed rule change vests powers and duties in this court that currently belong to the state legislature. Seizing these powers and responsibilities under the guise of 'divided government,' as an administrative rule change, grossly violates the separation of powers with our constitutional framework. The creation of fair voting districts dramatically impacts the quality of democracy in our state and should be accomplished with transparency and neutrality."
Linda Bochert – "I write, as a private citizen and voter, to raise a predicate question: should the Court adopt a rule at all? I think not. Not because the issue is political, complicated, controversial, or simply hard – although it is all of those things. But because the redistricting issue it proposes to solve is inherently not a judicial issue but a legislative one."
Douglas Owens-Pike – "As a farmer, making my living by tilling the soil, and a member of the Farmers Union, I am shocked at the audacity of one narrow interest group's attempt to make it even more difficult to challenge an already biased, unfair redistricting process. The proposed rules change would throw a dark cloak over an already closed-door process, shrouding out the light of open participation from a wider swath of public interests that have a history of being represented poorly."
Sarah S. Jones – "Wisconsin citizens deserve fair representation in their legislature, determined by fairly-designated voting districts. They deserve a process for drawing those districts which operates without partisan affiliation; allows ample time for deliberation; admits comment by any concerned groups and individuals, including the non-partisan; provides for review by appropriate levels of state or federal court; and maintains transparency throughout."
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All on the Line – The proposed rule "does not make clear who is permitted to object or rebut the Court’s proposed map plan, but instead suspends the creation of that list to a later date. This could lead to absurd results, such as a group being able to submit a proposed map, but not being able to submit an objection or rebuttal to the Court’s plan, and vice versa. Moreover, the Petition will preclude participation by community groups that lack the sophistication to understand brand new judicial procedures or lack the technology to draw their own map. The Court’s rules should not limit public input on a proposed map where the rules of civil procedure or prudential considerations could not."
Campaign Legal Center – The Proposed Rule has numerous flaws. Most notably, the Proposed Rule: (1) invites premature litigation; (2) mistakenly suggests that the legislature can adopt new districts without presenting those districts to the governor for approval or veto; (3) prioritizes involvement of partisan interests as parties; (4) short shrifts or, at the Court’s discretion, omits entirely the fact-finding process necessary to resolve redistricting disputes; and (5) establishes inadequate procedures governing proposed maps.
Tseytlin – We support Rule Petition 20-03 for three reasons. First, it would restore the primacy of this Court vis-à-vis the federal courts in resolving any impasse in Wisconsin’s congressional-redistricting process. Second, it meets this Court’s criteria in Jensen v. Wisconsin Elections Board...for 'establish[ing] [the] protocol for the adjudication of redistricting litigation.' Third, it puts forth a process that will allow the Justices of this Court—who are elected by the people statewide to serve on the State’s highest court—to adjudicate any dispute over the congressional districts well before statutory deadlines for the Fall 2022 Elections, which may not be possible if this Court were to allow such redistricting disputes to proceed first in the circuit court or federal district court."
Common Cause – "Our opposition to the Jensen petition is based on both the narrow scope of interest in the upcoming redistricting process which it seeks to define, as well as the abbreviated period of time in which it proposes the Court to act. Both of these factors undermine and even largely exclude altogether, the interests and concerns of most Wisconsin citizens, including our members. It is important to remember that voters and citizens are the ones whose rights are most impacted by redistricting, and who deserve to be protected by the Court. The petition seeks a rush to judgment without allowing citizens to have their concerns adjudicated and addressed through even the normal channels of judicial review."
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