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A lawsuit brought by a group of state Democrats over what it calls “one of the worst partisan gerrymanders in modern American history” will go to trial next month after a panel of federal judges hearing the case denied a motion Thursday to dismiss the case.

Lawyers for the GOP-led state Department of Justice had asked for summary judgment in their favor. The lawsuit, filed last year, challenges the 2011 Republican legislative redistricting plan and instead offers what the group states would be an objective means of evaluating the fairness of legislative boundaries.

The panel of three federal judges said in a 36-page decision that there are ample questions about the plan that will require a trial on the facts in order to reach a decision.

The panel heard oral arguments on the motion on March 23. A trial, scheduled to last four days, will start on May 24 before U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of Madison, Chief Judge William Griesbach of Milwaukee and Judge Kenneth Ripple of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.

“Defendants raise many points in their summary judgment submissions,” the federal panel wrote. “It may be that one or more of these objections carries the day in the end. However, we believe that deciding the case now as a matter of law would be premature because there are factual disputes regarding the validity of plaintiffs’ proposed measurement for determining the existence of a constitutional violation. Accordingly, we deny defendants’ motion for summary judgment and allow the case to proceed to trial.”

Sachin Chheda, director of the Wisconsin Fair Elections Project, said this is the farthest that a court challenge based on a gerrymandering claim has gotten in court in 30 years, having now survived a summary judgment motion and, in December, a motion to dismiss the case.

“That’s what’s very unique about this,” Chheda said.

The Democrats’ lawsuit proposes a means to test the fairness of redistricting plans and whether they are formulated with the intention of benefiting one political party at the expense of another.

Asymmetry between the parties is measured using an “efficiency gap,” which represents the difference between the parties’ “wasted votes” — excess votes for a winning candidate or votes cast for a losing candidate. It is intended to measure the extent to which voters of a particular party are “packed” into a limited number of legislative districts or “cracked,” scattered in smaller numbers among multiple districts so they fall short of a majority in each.

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Ed Treleven is the courts reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.