COMMENTARY: All that for nothing
By Kevin Binversie | Wisconsin Reporter
What do you make of an attorney who gets 98.6 percent of everything he wants in a lawsuit — and then sues again to get that last 1.4 percent?
What if I tell you that, months after filing the appeal, the attorney drops the lawsuit — and sticks his client with the bill?
“Wasted effort” comes to mind. “Wasted taxpayer dollars” does as well.
That is exactly what Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen did after he made a big deal about appealing a decision, in which a panel of federal judges for the U.S. District Court for Wisconsin’s Eastern District in Milwaukee approved all of the state’s redistricting maps — with the modest exception of the line dividing Assembly Districts 8 and 9.
While virtually every observer celebrated his victory, Van Hollen vowed to file an appeal. He went so far as to say he would oversee the appeal personally.
Fast forward to the middle of June, and Van Hollen announces he’s dropping the appeal and settling the case. As part of that settlement, Van Hollen will pay $185,000 to cover the court costs and lawyer fees of Voces de la Fronteras, a radical left-wing, immigrants’ rights group with strong ties to the state Democratic Party.
That’ll teach them.
Van Hollen’s appeal was the latest action in a legal back and forth between Wisconsin Democrats and Republicans over the legislative redistricting maps which must be redrawn after every census. Prior to 2011’s decennial event of creating new legislative boundaries, stalemates between the two parties had the redistricting duties put in the hands of federal judges after the 1980, 1990 and 2000 censuses.
The current lawsuit — started by a group led by former state Senate Majority Leader Judy Robson, D-Beloit, and filed before the maps were even introduced — clearly was an attempt to have a repeat of Wisconsin’s redistricting history. It also has cost taxpayers somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million to $2 million to argue before federal court.
When I last talked to the attorney general, in May, he said his appeal was motivated by principle. It’s the job of the Legislature — not the federal bench — to draw Wisconsin’s legislative boundaries, he said.
The principle is sound. Far too often, the courts have become a place not to redress grievances but to fight battles lost at the ballot box. In this case, Wisconsin liberals, upset they’d been left without a seat at the redistricting table after their November 2010 shellacking, were seeking a sympathetic judge who would let them have their way.
That legal strategy has been the modus operandi for everything from Act 10 to voter ID. Didn’t win the vote? Go find a judge — likely on in Dane County — who can act as referee, go to the video booth and overturn the decision.
But let’s be clear, it is also not a no-holds barred, back-alley cage match either. This is not how our political — or even judicial — system is supposed to work. There are rules to be upheld.
Yet, throughout the entire redistricting battle, the rules were ignored. Democrats believed they could use the court — in conjunction with a recall strategy to reclaim the state Senate — to draw entirely new maps that would benefit them.
So, I understand what Van Hollen was trying to get across in his legal thinking. But he also should have known when a win is a win and accepted the April ruling. Now the state’s out another $200,000.
Both sides should stop running for the nearest courthouse when things didn’t turn out their way at either the ballot box or in the Legislature. Until the day comes, we should all be upset with those who think the taxpayer is but an ATM for the participants in a political game.
Veteran political blogger Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native. He served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous state Republican campaigns, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.