Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘US District Court (Eastern District of WI)

WI Redistricting: District Court says Maps Can be Redrawn, but Rs refuse; Trial to Resume Thursday

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Folks, this isn’t much of a surprise; the United States District Court (Eastern Division of Wisconsin) today rejected the Wisconsin Legislature’s argument that they cannot re-draw the maps based on a 1954 state Supreme Court decision.  The Legislature is dominated in both the Assembly and in the Senate by Republicans, so in essence it is the Wisconsin Republican Party that has refused as all along, as the Democratic Party and the few Independents in the state government at any level all seem to want to re-draw the maps.  The Court gave the Legislature (the Rs) 5.5 hours today to reconsider their viewpoint; the Rs, predictably, have refused to re-draw the maps.

The only reason this is significant is that now the Republican Party’s refusal is on the record.  Otherwise, nothing has changed from what I reported late last night; the Rs want the maps to stand, the Ds want the maps to be re-drawn, and the District Court seems mystified by the Rs recalcitrant behavior.

Here’s the link to today’s Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story:

http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/court-rules-lawmakers-can-make-changes-to-maps-bu49vtc-140013193.html

Here’s a relevant quote:

Because lawmakers and the groups suing them could not agree on a settlement, the case will go to trial at 8:30 a.m. Thursday on an accelerated schedule. The trial was expected to last three or four days, but the presiding judge said he wanted to complete testimony by Friday, even if it meant going into the evening.

On Tuesday, an attorney for the state, Dan Kelly, told the judges that lawmakers were open to making changes to the maps, but he argued that a 1954 state Supreme Court decision prevented lawmakers from making changes to the maps after they had approved them. The panel of three federal judges – which includes two judges appointed by Republican presidents – rejected that argument Wednesday, and told the attorneys to tell them that afternoon whether the Legislature would spend the coming weeks drawing new maps.

Republican leaders declined to do that, sending the case to trial.

The only real news here is that the Court will expect this trial to wrap up on Friday evening even if they have to stay quite late in order to get everything done.  This means the Court will not allow the Legislature to obfuscate or delay any longer; these maps must be fixed by April 15, 2012, or things are going to get even messier than they already are.

As I said before, the only thing certain in all this is that the Rs don’t want to do anything.  They seem willing to let this go to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) because they believe they will prevail there due to the 5-4 split between conservatives/Republicans and liberals/Democrats.  But this particular panel is made up of two conservatives/Republicans and one Democrat and they don’t agree with the Legislature; how can the Legislature be sure they’ll get more than two votes at the SCOTUS level?  (Methinks they can’t, especially if the Supreme Court justices dislike the way the Legislature has behaved toward other judges the way I think is likely.  It’s possible that SCOTUS may rule 9-0 against the Wisconsin Rs, even though they don’t seem to think that’s likely.)

Oh, one other tidbit in this article:

The case comes to trial just as Gov. Scott Walker nearly doubles the amount in taxpayer money that can be spent on outside attorneys assisting the Department of Justice. Documents released Wednesday show the cap on the contract with Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren is being raised from $500,000 to $925,000.

Those costs are in addition to the $400,000 that Republican lawmakers have committed to two law firms that helped them draw the maps.

So, did you get that?  Walker is going to allow the Rs to get more state money to defend these terrible maps.  Which is why his recall cannot come soon enough.

That’s it for today; trial will resume Thursday, and I’d expect we’ll get a decision on this matter by the middle of next week due to the time-sensitive nature of this problem.  Stay tuned.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 22, 2012 at 6:15 pm

WI Rs Refuse to Re-Draw Maps; Trial Resumes Tomorrow

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Here’s the latest regarding the trial going on in the United States District Court (Eastern Division of Wisconsin) — the Wisconsin Republicans, who control the Legislature, the Governor’s chair, and the state Supreme Court, have decided they “do not have the power” to re-draw the maps as the three-judge panel headed by Judge Stadtmueller asked them to do.

Here’s the link to the story at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/judicial-panel-says-gop-should-consider-new-election-maps-4v49cpj-139829743.html

Now, as to the merits of the Republican argument?  They are pointing to a 1954 Wisconsin state Supreme Court decision, which the Rs believe disallows any re-drawing of the district maps; the Rs say they would “like to” revisit the maps, but they just can’t.  The reason this is such a big deal is that every ten years, these maps must be re-drawn; because the Rs won all three branches of the state government, there was almost nothing the Democrats could do to stop them from doing anything they liked.   This is the main reason the Democrats sued.

Here’s a new quote from the updated story at the Journal-Sentinel:

The panel – which includes two judges appointed by Republican presidents and one appointed by a Democratic president – has repeatedly criticized Republican lawmakers in written orders for their secretive process for drawing the maps.

On Tuesday, presiding Judge J.P. Stadtmueller did the same shortly after hearing that attorneys for the legislators had released a new batch of emails Friday that they had not previously disclosed they had. The release of emails came a day after the court had ordered the lawmakers’ attorneys to make public a separate group of emails.

“The facts are the facts and what has occurred here is beyond the pale in terms of lack of transparency (and) secrecy,” Stadtmueller said. “Appearances are everything and Wisconsin has prided itself one generation after another on openness and fairness in doing the right thing. And to be frank we have seen everything but that in the way this case has proceeded.”

Now, the lack of transparency regarding e-mails may seem like a minor issue, but if you’ve followed along with my previous blogs upon the subject, you know it isn’t.  The Rs have been chastised four separate times to date over their lack of transparency; as Judge Stadtmueller said above, this isn’t the right thing to do.

Here’s the deal, folks.  What the Rs have done in Wisconsin reminds me of the old axiom that goes like this:  “Power corrupts.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  This is because they felt they could do anything they liked and no one would say anything to them over it.  Even after hundreds of thousands went out to protest all over the state of Wisconsin last year over the high-handed, dictatorial way Governor Scott Walker went about eliminating collective bargaining for most public-employee union members, the Rs didn’t change their ways.

Now, the Rs have been sued because of the way these maps have been drawn.  And they say they “lack the power” to change them even though they control all three branches of government.

I’m sorry.  I don’t buy this argument, and I am really disgusted that it’s taken this three-judge panel to get the Rs to admit they really should re-draw these maps (but they just can’t).

As I said before, I fully expect the three-judge panel to be excoriated by the Rs in coming days.  The Rs have a great deal of money and can put many ads on television; they’ll blame “activist judges,” no doubt, and hope that the people don’t realize that two of the three judges on the panel were appointed by Republican Presidents, including Judge Stadtmueller himself (appointed by Ronald Reagan).

What it seems to me the state GOP is hoping for is that the district court will rule against them; after that, they will appeal to the United States Supreme Court, and because there are five well-known conservative justices there, they figure they will get their way.  (Two of the five, in particular, would seem to be sympathetic right off the bat — Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia — but it’s possible even they might find the way the Wisconsin Rs have behaved objectionable.)

But there’s nothing saying that the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court must back the Wisconsin GOP, now, is there?  Because if all conservatives behaved the same way, wouldn’t you think this three-judge panel would’ve tossed this lawsuit summarily right off the bat, as two of the three judges on the panel are conservative-appointees?

It’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not these maps are going to hold up.  But my hunch is that they’ll be overturned, even if they do get appealed to the US Supreme Court; eventually, these maps will end up being re-drawn by the courts.  And providing these maps are indeed overturned, that will be a victory for the people of Wisconsin.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 21, 2012 at 11:29 pm

Surprise! Federal Judges Want Rs to Redraw WI District Maps

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Folks, even I didn’t see this one coming.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, at this link, reports that the three-judge panel from the United States District Court (Eastern District of Wisconsin) has asked the Wisconsin Legislature (thus in actuality, the Wisconsin Republican Party as all three branches of government in Wisconsin are currently controlled by the GOP) to “consider re-drawing” the district maps that are currently in dispute by taking into account the problems Latinos and the Democratic Party have with the maps and fixing the problems accordingly.

The Journal-Sentinel reports:

The court gave the Legislature until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to decide whether it wants to revisit the maps it approved last summer. If it does not, the trial challenging the maps will resume Wednesday. If lawmakers agree to take up the maps anew, the court would give them until mid-March to approve them.

Apparently the reason the judges want the Legislature to re-draw the maps (rather than go to trial) is because they honestly feel that the Legislature should draw the maps — just, perhaps, not these maps.  (Or in science-fictional terms, “These aren’t the maps you’re looking for.  Move along.”)

Here’s more from the article that discusses what presiding judge J.P. Stadtmueller thinks:

At the opening of trial, presiding Judge J.P. Stadtmueller said drawing district lines is the purview of lawmakers, and it would be best for them to put those lines into law. However, he said, the plaintiffs have raised significant issues, particularly on the treatment of Latino areas and in the way it moved hundreds of thousands of people into new districts. He said legislators should consider setting new maps with those concerns in mind.

Next is my favorite part of the article:

Stadtmueller and the others on the panel have repeatedly criticized Republican lawmakers for being overly secretive in how they drew the maps. Almost all lawmakers signed secrecy agreements about the maps and they tried repeatedly to prevent their aides from having to testify or produce documents. Those attempts were unsuccessful, and last month the panel ordered the Republicans’ attorneys to pay the other side $17,500 for filing frivolous motions.

Note that Stadtmueller said that the “one-day pause” should not be taken as an indication of how the three-judge panel will rule — but then again, does it really need to be, considering the fact that on four prior occasions, the three-judge panel has heavily chastised the Wisconsin Rs for backroom shenanigans and an absolute lack of transparency?

My take on this is simple: if the judges didn’t believe there were grounds to strike down these maps — and good grounds, at that — they wouldn’t have made this extraordinary offer to the Wisconsin Rs.  Because the offer basically says this: “Fix the maps on your own.  Or we’ll likely end up fixing them for you.”

The entirety of the Wisconsin Legislature, along with Governor Scott Walker (R), now have until 5:30 p.m. CST to make a decision as to whether or not they’re willing to re-visit these maps and attempt to re-draw them in a way that the court is likely to approve.

If I had to guess at what the Wisconsin Rs are going to do, though, my guess is this: they won’t re-draw the maps.  They’ll instead go back into court tomorrow, and try to impugn the three-judge panel on every media station that will allow them to do so within the state of Wisconsin (and probably on national cable such as Fox News, too, no doubt) because somehow, these three judges will be seen as “activist liberal judges” who just want to cause trouble for the Rs because the Rs are sweet, innocent, and completely in the right in every way, shape, or form.  The fact that two of these three judges were appointed by Republican Presidents, mind you, will go completely by the boards when it comes to the media, but I can assure you that the judges themselves know full well who appointed them, and why. 

This is why if I were a Republican, I’d be calling my legislators — and the Governor, too, no doubt — and urging them to take this deal before it’s too late.  Otherwise, the judges will not be pleased . . . and my best guess after that, considering all the chicanery that’s gone on over the past year-plus since Scott Walker and the R-dominated Legislature came to power, is that the GOP will end up getting its comeuppance in a way that party had never foreseen — otherwise known as, “By their fruits, ye shall know them.”

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 21, 2012 at 3:19 pm

For the Fourth Time, US District Court Rules Against WI R-Controlled Legislature re: Redistricting Plans

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For the fourth time, the United States District Court (Eastern District of Wisconsin) has ruled against the Republican-dominated Wisconsin Legislature and its attorneys over the new district maps the Legislature drew last year.  These maps were drawn in secret, the public had only one day to comment publicly on them in Madison, and then they were passed by party-line vote in the Republican-dominated Legislature.  No Democratic legislators had any input into these maps because the Republicans completely shut them out.

Worse yet, the Republicans, nearly to a person, signed non-disclosure agreements with attorneys in order to try to cloak their legislative business under the “attorney-client” privilege that’s commonly given to legal defendants.

But this did not work.

So, for the fourth time, the US District Court (Eastern Dist. of WI) has said that all the deliberations of the Republicans via e-mail with and without their lawyers (that is, communication to and from their lawyers, and communication among themselves) do not qualify as something that can be protected via attorney-client privilege.  And the judges’ comments, once again, are scathing.

Here’s the link to yesterday’s story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/federal-judges-slam-gop-lawmakers-over-redistricting-secrecy-0l47pqm-139467038.html

And here’s a link to the actual order by the three district judges, two of whom were appointed by Republican Presidents:

http://media.jsonline.com/documents/redist-021712.pdf

Here are a few words from the judges’ decision that explained why they have ruled against the Republicans (again):

The documents produced by the defendants consist predominantly of a series of email messages discussing the support of certain Hispanic community groups for redistricting legislation and also discussing the floor debates on a pending bill.

In the Court’s view, it is quite apparent that these email discussions involve advice on political strategy, as opposed to legal strategy, and, therefore, are not afforded attorney-client privilege protection.

But wait!  There’s more!

Without a doubt, the Legislature made a conscious choice to involve private lawyers in what gives every appearance of an attempt—albeit poorly disguised—to cloak the private machinations of Wisconsin’s Republican legislators in the shroud of attorney-client privilege. What could have—indeed should have—been accomplished publicly instead took place in private, in an all but shameful attempt to hide the redistricting process from public scrutiny.

OK, let’s have that last sentence again, shall we?  With emphasis this time (as added by yours truly):

What could have—indeed should have—been accomplished publicly instead took place in private, in an all but shameful attempt to hide the redistricting process from public scrutiny.

What bothers the judges here is also what’s bothered me from the start regarding the redistricting process.  Simply put: this should’ve been done in the full light of day, where Wisconsin voters would’ve had weeks to weigh in on what they thought of the districts (rather than only one day in Madison for people to hurry on up there and try to talk sense into the recalcitrant Rs).  The Democrats should’ve been consulted even if the Rs had still refused to listen.  And the actual redistricting itself should’ve been far less cumbersome than it’s turned out to be, which it would’ve been if the Rs had just done things openly rather than try to give themselves some sort of out via “attorney-client privilege.”

But let’s hear some more from the District judges, shall we?

In concluding that the documents at issue here are not privileged from disclosure, the Court does not mean to suggest that the attorney-client privilege is unavailable to government entities. It is simply not available in this instance because of the Legislature’s peculiar (and frankly unfortunate) decision in this case to so blur the lines between political, strategic, and legal advice as to make those lines practically disappear. In so doing, the movants—who, in fact, seem to act on behalf of only a portion of the Legislature despite their assertion that they act on behalf of the full Legislature (and, by extension, all of Wisconsin’s citizens)—have tried to hide the redistricting process from the very people whose rights are at stake in that process.

Amen!  (I couldn’t have said it better myself.)

The judges continue:

And those very people, Wisconsin’s citizens, have paid through their tax dollars for the efforts ostensibly taken on their behalf. The Court finds it highly doubtful that any lawyer’s client would delight in having the documents and communications  for which they have paid kept beyond their reach. Thus, in these particular circumstances, it would be inappropriate to shield from disclosure the communications provided to the Court for in camera review.

Now, did you note the language the judges used?  “The Court finds it highly doubtful . . . ” is quite pointed language from a judge (much less a three-judge panel).  But what about this next line?  “. . . the Legislature’s peculiar (and frankly unfortunate) decision in this case  to so blur the lines between political, strategic, and legal advice as to make those lines practically disappear” is practically acerbic, coming from a judge.  And this next line — my favorite in the whole five-page order — “What could have—indeed should have—been accomplished publicly instead took place in private, in an all but shameful attempt to hide the redistricting process from public scrutiny” makes the point that the judges have had quite enough of this, thank you, so let’s get on.

All of this is why it’s noteworthy that the judges’ ordered the R-dominated Legislature and its hand-picked lawyers release all e-mail communications.  Because, you see, the judges have obviously had enough — and for the fourth time, they’ve said so.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 18, 2012 at 12:27 am