If Wisconsin’s attorney general is truly concerned about wasting state resources, he should support a nonpartisan and fair process for drawing legislative voting districts that doesn’t lead to long and expensive court battles.
Instead, Brad Schimel is defending the Republican-run Legislature’s rigged voting district maps that have cost Wisconsin taxpayers more than $2 million in private lawyer fees and countless hours of distraction — leading all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Schimel succeeded in convincing the nation’s highest court this week to put on hold a lower court order that the state draw new Assembly voting districts by this fall. A three-judge panel had ordered the Legislature in January to redraw the boundaries of Assembly districts by November so they would no longer blatantly favor Republican candidates in key races.
The U.S. Supreme Court this week agreed with Schimel to delay the drawing of new maps until it decides if the lower court is right that the maps constitute an “unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.” Drawing new maps now would be a waste of resources, Schimel argued, if the high court winds up ruling next year in favor of keeping existing maps.
“The stay is particularly important because it preserves the Legislature’s time, effort and resources while this case is pending,” Schimel said Monday.
We get his point. But the Republican attorney general’s argument ignores the larger issue and expense. If his GOP colleagues in the Legislature hadn’t adopted such skewed maps in the first place, a legal battle costing taxpayers more than $2 million — and counting — wouldn’t have been necessary.
That’s why Schimel and the entire Legislature should support a neutral system of drawing voting district lines, similar to the Iowa model. Iowa assigns to a nonpartisan state agency the once-every-decade task of reshaping voting districts to reflect population changes. Strict guidelines require the agency to draw districts as compact and contiguous as possible, while respecting the boundaries of communities. The agency also is forbidden from considering the fate of Iowa politicians when drawing that state’s lines.
The results are more competitive legislative races than in Wisconsin — at virtually no public cost. The only real expense in Iowa is mileage for a few state staffers to travel the state holding public hearings. And because Republicans and Democrats alike respect the Iowa system, the maps don’t prompt expensive lawsuits there.
Schimel may sincerely believe the legal argument he is pushing before the Supreme Court — that state lawmakers can pretty much do whatever they want when shaping voting districts. But he also should be open to a better way of doing the people’s business at less expense. He should support Senate Bill 13, which would adopt the Iowa model in Wisconsin.
Editor's note: The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals did not order the Wisconsin Legislature in January to redraw the boundaries of Assembly voting districts, as this editorial originally stated. The judge who wrote the ruling is from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, but the two other judges who participated in the decision are not.