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Supreme Court Redistricting

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks at an Oct. 3, 2017, rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington.

Democrats in Wisconsin’s ongoing gerrymandering lawsuit are pushing back against a request from Republicans to press pause on the trial after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear two similar cases.

A federal court decision to stay the case, which was remanded to U.S. District Court in June after the U.S. Supreme Court found it lacked standing, could have profound implications for Wisconsin’s political maps.

If the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin sides with Republicans and waits to hold a trial until after June, when Democrats expect a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on two similar gerrymandering cases from North Carolina and Maryland, Wisconsin Democrats may lose their chance to redraw the state’s political boundaries before the 2020 general election, if a court were to side with them.

Attorneys for the Democratic plaintiffs — several Democratic voters and the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee — in a court filing Jan. 14 said delaying the trial, currently set for April 23, would limit Assembly Democrats’ ability to affect the state’s political boundaries, which they argue are severely gerrymandered to benefit the GOP.

Democrats hold a minority in the Assembly, winning just 36 seats in the 99-seat chamber in November despite claiming 54 percent of the popular vote.

A panel of judges in 2016 had ruled the state’s 2011 political maps represented an unconstitutional gerrymander, allowing Republicans to take a significant majority of seats.

Republicans dispute allegations they intentionally engineered the maps in their favor, contending GOP voters are naturally dispersed geographically across the state while Democrats are clustered in cities.

Attorneys for the Republican-controlled Assembly, which intervened in the case last fall, in a court filing earlier this month called for a stay in the gerrymandering case’s proceedings, arguing the two cases the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear on appeal present the same issues as Wisconsin’s Gill vs. Whitford case and that holding a trial would be unnecessary until the other cases are resolved.

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“The Assembly cannot reasonably suggest that its request for a stay is motivated by anything other than a desire to preserve the unconstitutional 2011 gerrymander through the end of the decennial cycle,” wrote Annabelle Harless, one of the attorneys for the Democratic plaintiffs.

In their filing, Democrats also challenged the GOP’s argument the two cases taken up by the Supreme Court present similar issues.

Harless wrote it’s possible the U.S. Supreme Court could rule on the two cases without providing any additional clarification for Wisconsin’s case.

To support her argument, she cited the fact a district court in North Carolina did not stay its gerrymandering case just because Wisconsin’s was headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.

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