A three-judge panel has set in motion a January trial to draw new congressional and legislative boundaries over the objections of GOP lawmakers.
Republicans argued there’s no need for the federal court to move until late spring or early summer.
Attorney Kevin St. John, representing the state Legislature, declined several times Tuesday to give the panel a hard deadline on when lawmakers plan to complete a map. He noted the state Legislature has floor periods scheduled this fall as well as January, February and into early March while arguing the three-judge panel should do nothing until the Capitol and state courts first take a shot at drawing new lines.
St. John also pointed out in past redistricting lawsuits, the federal courts have produced maps in late May and early June.
But U.S. Judge James Peterson noted the state’s primary has since moved up a month to the second Tuesday in August. What’s more, the Elections Commission has said it needs new maps in place by March 1 so it has 45 days to make sure the new lines are incorporated into the work it needs to do before nomination papers can be circulated April 15.
“I don’t think it’s realistic to think we could resolve that case if we did nothing toward that objective if we wait until the end of February,” said Peterson, appointed by President Obama.
The two redistricting lawsuits, combined into one action, argue the GOP-controlled Legislature and Dem Gov. Tony Evers are unlikely to reach a deal on new lines and the federal courts should step in once they fail.
The GOP-controlled Legislature unsuccessfully sought to have the case dismissed, arguing if lawmakers and Evers fail to reach an agreement the case should first be handled by the state courts. There is currently a request pending before the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take original action in a separate redistricting suit.
St. John indicated GOP lawmakers are considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after the panel rejected the motion to dismiss.
He argued the case shouldn’t be before the federal judges because there’s no impasse at this time.
Pressed by Judge Amy St. Eve, a Trump appointee, St. John said the Legislature has no hard deadline for a map to be completed.
He noted the Legislature is taking public input on maps through Oct. 15 and could take up a map through early March. He also said the Legislature disputes the Elections Commission’s assertion that it needs new maps by March 1. St. John said the April 15 period to begin circulating nomination papers could be moved back and isn’t a hard deadline for new maps to be in place.
St. John noted in 2011, the Legislature received Census information needed to draw new maps in March and the new lines were signed into law in August. It was the only time going back to the 1980 Census that legislative lines were drawn without intervention by the federal courts.
“We’re going to set deadlines because there’s litigation here, and we’re going to be responsive to it,” St. Eve said. “The more information you give us, the more responsive those deadlines will be.”
Peterson asked the parties to confer and propose a schedule that would result in a weeklong trial wrapping up by Jan. 28. He also asked the parties to weigh in on whether the Elections Commission truly needs maps in place by March 1 to implement them for next year’s elections. Still, even if the parties indicated they believed maps could be completed later, Peterson suggested the panel may take that additional time to complete a ruling rather than pushing back the timeline.
He also said the court may stay proceedings to give the Legislative and Evers some time to work out a map. But with the delay in receiving Census information this year and the earlier fall primary compared to two decades ago, he didn’t believe the case could be put on pause indefinitely.
“We see that we have no choice but to prepare for this litigation,” he said.