Madison – Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said Friday he did not know whether he would use special counsel to assist him with an appeal over election maps to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The state used Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren to assist Van Hollen with the case before a panel of three federal judges. The firm’s contract is for up to $925,000.
The panel found two of the state’s 99 Assembly districts violated the federal Voting Rights Act in March, and approved a revised version of those maps earlier this month. Van Hollen appealed the decision Thursday to the U.S. Supreme Court.
But he said Friday no decision has been made on using special counsel. Gov. Scott Walker makes the sole call on whether to appoint outside attorneys, and Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie also said no decision had been made.
Van Hollen touted the March ruling because the court found problems with just one line after reviewing all the congressional and legislative maps Republicans in the Legislature approved last year. But he said Friday an appeal was warranted.
“It is my belief that despite the fact we won an overwhelming victory in court with regards to redistricting that it is not the appropriate role of the judiciary in this case to tell the Legislature that they had to redraw the lines even in two districts,” he said. “So for me, it wasn’t so much the victory or loss, it’s making sure that in the future we have accurate case law indicating what the Legislature does have the power to do and what the judiciary can do to change or take away those powers. I believe, and the reason I have appealed is, that the judiciary overstepped their bounds.”
Democrats have been critical of the Republican attorney general because of the potential costs of taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Van Hollen, who said he would be “personally active” in the case, said he expected the appeal’s cost to be minimal.
Every 10 years, states have to redraw congressional and legislative districts to account for population shifts recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau. Republicans in Wisconsin controlled state government last year and drew lines that benefited their party.
A group of Democrats and the immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera brought the suit over the lines, which started even before Republican lawmakers made their maps public.
Because Van Hollen is appealing the case, the plaintiffs will be able to argue to the Supreme Court that other maps are also flawed. But Van Hollen said he was not worried the high court would strike down maps of other districts that lawmakers approved.
“I don’t believe that anything will turn back what we have succeeded in winning,” Van Hollen said. “I believe the victory can get nothing but stronger in the Supreme Court.”
Peter Earle, the attorney for Voces, said Thursday he was surprised by the appeal, calling it a political move by Van Hollen.
“I think this appeal is a laughable, partisan stunt,” Earle said. “This is a high-priced folly.”
Federal redistricting cases are unusual in that they are heard initially by a three-judge panel. Appeals go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the high court is required to take the cases.