A group led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday filed a lawsuit against Gov. Scott Walker for his decision to leave two vacant legislative seats open for nearly a year.
Seats in the state's 1st Senate District and 42nd Assembly District were vacated in late December when Walker appointed Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, and Rep. Keith Ripp, R-Lodi, to administrative positions.
Walker has argued it makes sense to leave the seats open until the regularly scheduled Nov. 6 elections, but Democrats have argued it's not fair to leave residents of those districts without representation.
The district offices remain staffed at the Capitol.
"Governor Scott Walker’s refusal to hold special elections is an affront to representative democracy," Holder said in a statement. "Forcing citizens to go more than a year without representation ... is a plain violation of their rights and we’re hopeful the court will act quickly to order the governor to hold elections."
Holder, who served as attorney general under President Barack Obama, launched the National Democratic Redistricting Committee last year with the intent of chipping away at Republican majorities ahead of the 2020 redistricting process.
Wisconsin, which is led by Republicans in the governor's office and both chambers of the Legislature, is a top target for the group.
The lawsuit was filed in Dane County Circuit Court on behalf of registered voters in the two vacant districts.
The complaint cites this statutory requirement: "Any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring before the 2nd Tuesday in May in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat shall be filled as promptly as possible by special election."
Walker's administration has argued this statute does not apply because Lasee's and Ripp's seats were up for election in 2018, but they resigned in late 2017.
"Voters are already going to the polls this year to elect new representatives in these districts. This D.C.-based special interest group wants to force Wisconsin taxpayers to waste money," said Walker spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg. "The Legislature will be adjourned for 2018 before these seats could be filled in special elections, and staff in these offices are working for constituents until new leaders are elected. Our decision is consistent with the law."