A Democratic group headed by former US attorney general Eric Holder sued [text, PDF] Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Monday on behalf of several Wisconsin Democrats for his refusal to hold a special election to fill two vacancies in the state legislature.
The two seats have been vacant since December when two GOP lawmakers—Sen. Frank Lasee and Rep. Keith Ripp—resigned to join the Walker administration.
The group, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) [advocacy website] brought the lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court [official website] for Assembly District 42, Ripp’s former seat, just north of Madison, and Senate District 1, Lasee’s former seat, which includes the southwestern corner of Milwaukee and the rest of the southeast corner of the state.
The group claims that Walker’s refusal to issue the elections has “caused and will continue to cause substantial injury to plaintiffs, [depriving them] of their clear legal right to have representation in the legislature.”
Walker is the only one under Wisconsin law who has the capacity to hold these elections. The suit requests a court order for Walker to immediately issue the two special elections within five weeks of such an order.
This issue in part is on a state law that requires the governor to call a special election to fill any legislative vacancies “before the 2nd Tuesday in May in the year in which a regular election is held.” The governor’s office argues that the deadline does not apply because the vacancies occurred in 2017, not 2018. To this, the NDRC argues this makes little sense, considering constituents in the two legislative districts will remain unrepresented for over a year if they are not elected until November, 2018 and sworn in in January, 2019.
US Congressional districting in Wisconsin is also currently the subject of a much-awaited US Supreme Court decision in Gill v. Whitford [JURIST report], which directly challenges the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s congressional districts with broad implications for the limits of political gerrymandering nationwide. Oral arguments [JURIST report] were heard in October.