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GOP Staffers Deny Partisan Motives In Drawing Legislative Districts

Aides Offer Testimony In Federal Trial On 2011 Redistricting

Wisconsin State Capitol
Phil Roeder (CC-BY)

Republican aides who drew Wisconsin’s legislative map downplayed any partisan motive in court on Wednesday, even as a panel of federal judges was shown evidence that GOP leaders prioritized a map that made it much harder for Democrats to win elections.

The Democratic voters suing to overturn the map argue it violates their constitutional rights because it treats them unequally based on their political beliefs. Central to their challenge is proving Republicans intended to gain a political edge when they redrew the boundaries for Wisconsin’s 99 Assembly districts and 33 Senate districts in 2011.

Documents presented to the court show Republicans created a partisan “score” for each Assembly district and ultimately chose a map that’s nearly identical to one they had labeled “aggressive.” It created 59 majority Republican districts, an increase of 10 compared to Wisconsin’s previous map. Other options, which would have created fewer Republican seats, were rejected.

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But when pressed in court on why Republicans made the choices they did, Tad Ottman, who oversaw redistricting for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, chose his words carefully.

“What did the word ‘aggressive’ mean?’” asked attorney Peter Earle, one of the lawyers representing the Democratic plaintiffs in this case.

“I don’t know,” replied Ottman, who said partisan data was just one piece of data mapmakers included when they drew these plans. “That was just information we presented to legislative leaders.”

On Tuesday, the court heard from Republican legislative aide Adam Foltz, who oversaw redistricting for the State Assembly in 2011. Foltz was similarly guarded in his testimony.

During opening arguments in the case, plaintiffs’ attorney Nick Stephanopolus told the court that Republicans had created “an extreme and durable gerrymander” that would continue to exclude Democrats from the political process unless the federal courts intervened. The Wisconsin Department of Justice, which is defending the map, said it wasn’t anything beyond what would be expected when a partisan body redistricts.

What makes this case unique among other redistricting challenges nationally is that plaintiffs have developed a new metric to measure just how much a map benefits one party at the expense of the other. If the three-judge panel hearing this case accepts that measure, they could order the current legislative boundaries to be thrown out, and order a new map drawn.

Whatever gets decided in this case will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Justice Anthony Kennedy has indicated a willingness to intervene if someone can come up with a workable test to measure partisan gerrymandering.