Updated Dec. 14, 2020 to correct the number of pages in the Fair Maps Coalition submission.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Almost 2,000 additional comments opposing a proposal to give the State Supreme Court power to draw state redistricting maps were made public in the days following the Nov. 30 comment deadline.
Negative comments came from representatives of Gov. Tony Evers; a group of nine law professors; three election scholars; two former state senators; and 1,932 various Wisconsin residents – the last in a 712-page compilation of comments from the Fair Maps Coalition. All of the submissions can be found here.
The proposal, filed with the Supreme Court by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty and former State Rep. Scott Jensen, seeks to change the way redistricting disputes are handled by the courts. WILL is a conservative law firm.
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.
Assistant Attorneys General Anthony D. Russomanno and Brian P. Keenan, on behalf of Evers, said Jensen and WILL are asking the Supreme Court to adopt rules that conflict with the court's traditional role in original actions.
"And they do so in the context of especially complex trial court litigation, without meaningfully addressing the core factual and practical issues that will arise," they wrote. "Further, the proposal codifies court involvement in a political process and does so before that process can even begin."
"We caution against the use of judicial rulemaking to grant jurisdiction to the Wisconsin Supreme Court over an original action that requires extensive fact-finding, is overtly political, and for which there are adequate alternative forums for resolution in the first instance," wrote the nine law professors "We do not challenge this Court’s authority to adopt rules on original jurisdiction or to hear the types of cases described in the petition. Instead, we suggest that this Court exercise its discretion to deny the petition..."
The nine were Steven G. Calabresi, Zachary D. Clopton, James E. Pfander, and Martin H. Redish – Northwestern Pritzker School of Law; Maureen Carroll – University of Michigan Law School; Michael C. Dorf – Cornell Law School; Atiba R. Ellis and Edward A. Fallone – Marquette University Law School; and David S. Schwartz – University of Wisconsin Law School.
Three other lawyers, who are election scholars, noted that the Supreme Court spent years considering redistricting issues before it declined in 2009 to adopt court rules for redistricting disputes.
The Jensen / WILL submissions do not mention the court's earlier consideration, wrote the experts, Justin Levitt, of the Loyola Law School; Nicholas Stephanopoulos, of Harvard Law School; and Robert Yablon, of UW Law School.
"That is a bewildering omission," they wrote. "To overlook the relevant history is to miss hugely important lessons about the challenges of rulemaking in this area."
They continued: "When this court last considered the issue, two overarching concerns drove its decision not to act: first, that adopting rules would encourage redistricting disputes to be resolved through litigation in this court rather than through the political process; and second, that inviting politically fraught redistricting litigation would threaten the court’s institutional integrity. On each of these scores, this proposed rule is far worse than the proposal that the court previously rejected."
Former State Senators Dale Schultz, a Republican, and Tim Cullen, a Democrat, submitted joint comments opposing the proposal.
"We...know that in times of increased political division, it is unlikely the Legislature will accomplish this important work if it knows the State Supreme Court is waiting, willing to take the issue out of their hands," they wrote. "We ask you to respect the Legislature as a coequal branch of government, and not adopt this rule that would prematurely involve the court in a political question."
A (very) small sampling of the comments from 1,932 individuals and compiled by the Fair Maps Coalition is below.
"If this rule change is to take place, it will further limit the ability of the public to provide input on the process. I feel all stakeholders, not just party representatives, should continue to have an opportunity to influence this process. The rule change request is clearly politically motivated, and so should be denied in favor of the current process that uses an independent, non elected federal judge." – Aaron Day, Green Bay
"This will result in harmfully politicizing the court, excluding nonpartisan groups from full participation. This rule also provides insufficient transparency measures. Transparency is an important part of all branches of government in our democracy." – Agnes Welsch, Menomonie
"I oppose the WI Supreme Ct being allowed to take jurisdiction on redistricting matters. All parties should be allowed to plead their case about redistricting matters, not just political parties. Also, allowing the WI Supreme Ct to simply disregard the proposed rules and come up with their own, if they wish to, is unfair and improper and will lead to serious questions about political influence and transparency. Finally, Plaintiffs should be allowed to plead their case in federal courts, if necessary, to make sure their grievances are heard!" – Arthur Anderson, Elm Grove
"Allowing a rushed process disadvantages many individuals and groups. To honor our history as a democratic nation, we must allow all voices to be heard on equal grounds. Political parties may come or go, but people are here to stay." – Ann Lewandowski, Waunakee
"The GOP 'Justices' on the WI Supreme Court are setting WI back hundreds of years!" – Michael Goodman, Madison
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