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Redistricting committee files update with Supreme Court

Madison, Wisconsin - September 18, 2008

A committee recommending procedures that could be used to help settle disputes over legislative and congressional redistricting has filed an updated memo on its findings with the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The memo, which supplements information in the committee’s initial proposal, was drafted in response to public comment and questions asked by Supreme Court justices during an open administrative conference held April 8, 2008.

The memo addresses details of the committee’s original proposal, which outlines procedures that could be implemented if:

1) the Legislature is at an impasse in attempting to redraw legislative an congressional district boundaries; and
2) a party files a lawsuit asking the Court to take original jurisdiction; and
3) the Court agrees to grant the case; and
4) the Court approves the procedures.

The last time the Legislature completed the redistricting process without substantial judicial intervention was 1931, according to findings of the Wisconsin Redistricting Committee.

The committee was formed, and draft procedures proposed, as a result of a case brought to the Court by Republican legislative leaders in 2002, 02-0057-OA, Jensen et al. v. Wisconsin Elections Bd. et al.

The timing of the request for the Court to take original jurisdiction did not permit the Court to exercise its original jurisdiction in a way to do substantial justice, and the dispute was ultimately resolved in federal court, where a case was already pending.

The Jensen decision stated, in part: “…to assure the availability of a forum in this court for future redistricting disputes, we will initiate rulemaking proceedings regarding procedures for original jurisdiction in redistricting cases.”

The Court indicated new procedures could include “provisions governing factfinding (by a commission or panel of special masters or otherwise); opportunity for public hearing and comment on proposed redistricting plans; established timetables for the factfinder, the public and the court to act; and if possible, measures by which to avoid the sort of federal-state court 'forum shopping' conflict presented [in this case].”

The redistricting committee found that federal judges redrew state legislative districts after the decennial censuses in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. The state Supreme Court drew the lines in the 1960s, and threatened to do so again in the 1970s, when a judicially imposed deadline finally prompted a stalled Legislature to broker a deal.

The committee was formed Nov. 25, 2003, and it submitted a draft proposal for public comment on Sept. 21, 2007. Committee members include: R. Booth Fowler, professor emeritus, Political Science, UW-Madison; Donald Kotecki, Survey Research Center, St. Norbert College; Kenneth Mayer (co-chair), professor, Political Science, UW-Madison; Ed Miller (co-chair), professor, Political Science, UW-Stevens Point; Peter Rofes, professor, Marquette University Law School.

The Supreme Court is expected to consider the committee’s supplemental memo and proposed procedures in early 2009.

In the meantime, the Court invites public comment on the supplemental memo.

Here’s a timeline of select events and hyperlinks to related documents:

On Jan. 7, 2002, Scott R. Jensen, personally and as Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly and Mary E. Panzer, personally and as Minority Leader of the Wisconsin Senate, filed a petition Adobe PDF and memo Adobe PDF, asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to get involved in legislative redistricting.

On Feb. 5, 2002, oral arguments were held before the Supreme Court on the question of whether the Court should grant the petitioners leave to commence the original action, which sought declaratory judgment and other relief.

On Feb. 12, 2002, the court denied the Jensen petition, issuing an opinion, 02-0057-OA, Jensen et al. v. Wisconsin Elections Bd. et al. The opinion explained the Court’s reasons for denial and led to creation of the redistricting committee.

On July 30, 2002, the Court issued an amended order that a public hearing on this matter would be held in the Supreme Court Hearing Room in the State Capitol, Madison, Wisconsin, on Monday, Oct. 14, 2002, at 9:30 a.m.

On Nov. 25, 2003, the Court appointed a committee to review legislative redistricting in Wisconsin, to review this Court's decision in Jensen, 2002 WI 13, 249 Wis. 2d 706, 639 N.W.2d 537, along with rules and procedures of other jurisdictions, and to propose procedural rules.

On Sept. 21, 2007, the committee submitted its 18-page draft proposal, which outlined the rationale for being prepared in the event court involvement is needed.

On Sept. 25, 2007, the Court invited public comment on the proposal.

On Jan. 4, 2008, the Court issued an order of notice for an administrative conference to be held on Tuesday, April 8, 2008, in the Supreme Court Hearing Room in the State Capitol to discuss the committee’s report and comments received.

On Tuesday, April 8, 2008, the Court met in open administrative conference, asking the committee to submit supplemental information.

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