If the choice is between partisan ambition and democracy, democracy loses every time.
THERE MAY BE SOME element of suspense for lawyers as the courts continue to grapple with issues related to Wisconsin’s redistricting process, but most people have known for months what the politicians are loathe to admit.
Yes, majority Republicans manipulated a constitutionally required task, drawing district boundary lines purely to benefit their party and disadvantage Democrats. They did it because they could. And they did it with purpose, intending to lock in control of government at least until the next census, in 2020.
They just don’t want to publicly acknowledge rigging the electoral game, because that reveals politicians do all in their power to pick their voters rather than allow voters to pick their representatives. While they may eagerly embrace such an anti-democratic opportunity, they’ll scrap to the death trying not to get caught holding the smoking gun that proves such duplicity.
A THREE-JUDGE FEDERAL PANEL hearing the case, though, isn’t going along. And before the zealots start shouting about activist liberal judges, note the composition of the panel: One judge appointed by Ronald Reagan, one by George W. Bush, one by Bill Clinton.
At issue is whether those controlling the legislature turned over all pertinent information. The court has locked horns with the majority throughout the case, at one point levying a $17,500 fine against their attorneys for frivolously filing motions trying to withhold documents. At another juncture the court pried loose more records which had been withheld in spite of disclosure orders.
For months plaintiffs have been seeking access to three government computers used to draw maps, to search for other material wrongly withheld. The majority has fiercely resisted. This week the judges, clearly frustrated, lost patience and ordered the computers be turned over immediately for forensic review.
“The computers are extremely likely to contain relevant and responsive materials that should have been disclosed during pretrial discovery,” the court’s opinion stated. “Moreover, plaintiffs have established that substantial numbers of documents were not disclosed, which satisfies the court that some form of fraud, misrepresentation or misconduct likely occurred.”
STRONG WORDS. And rightly so, since so much hangs in the balance. In the first place, disciplinary actions against the legislature’s lawyers — and possibly others — could follow if they are found to have violated court procedures and directives intentionally.
More importantly for voters, if egregious violations are discovered the redistricting case could be reopened. Initially, the judges upheld most of the remap outcome — only two districts in the Milwaukee area were changed — although the ruling chided legislators for pursuing an overtly partisan strategy.
So the stakes are high, which certainly raises suspicions about the bulldog-like determination with which legislative leaders have resisted full disclosure.
Legal proceedings are about as exciting as watching a cow chew grass, but this one has opened a fascinating window into a world voters seldom get to see — a world where all the rhetorical jibber-jabber is silenced, and the full nature of the partisan power-grab is on display as democracy is sacrificed to ambition and control.
A FINAL WORD: The outcome of this case is unlikely to alter the balance of power in Wisconsin. Don’t expect manipulated lines to be un-manipulated. The real value of this case — pulling the curtain back on the sausage-making — is to alert voters to the pressing need for redistricting reform. It doesn’t have to be this bad. Some other states — Iowa is a good example — have scored significant successes in taking partisan interests out of the remap process, preserving choices for voters. Wisconsin could, too. Here’s the truth: Partisan politicians cannot be trusted to serve the interest of democracy; they will serve their own interests, instead, if they can. In Wisconsin, it was the Republicans. In Illinois, it’s the Democrats. In each instance, the people lost. This partisan system is corrupt — as the court said, prone to “fraud, misrepresentation and misconduct.” Any politician who opposes change goes against the people, and deserves to be fired at the next election.