Does the Legislature Lack the Power to Revise the Redistricting Law?

Republican lawmakers have asserted that they have no power to re-draw the election maps at issue in the ongoing Baldus v. Brennan litigation in federal court, despite a suggestion from the three judge panel hearing the case that the legislature make revisions to the law. The 1954 Wisconsin Supreme Court opinion that these lawmakers cite for this proposition does not decide the issue, and the unique factual situation of that case does not correspond to the present situation. In a familiar pattern, it appears that the fierce litigation between state Republicans and Democrats threatens to pull the courts deep into uncharted waters.

The Wisconsin Constitution provides:

“At its first session after each enumeration made by the authority of the United States, the legislature shall apportion and district anew the members of the Senate and Assembly, according to the number of inhabitants.”

(Article IV, Section 3).

In plain English, the legislature must pass a redistricting bill in the first legislative session after the federal census. Once it does so, the general rule is that a valid apportionment law may not be replaced with a law creating new districts until the time of the next census. Of course, if the legislature’s redistricting legislation violates the state or federal constitutions, it is not valid and the legislature must pass a new apportionment bill. The three judge panel in the Baldus case may rule the maps invalid, but it suggested that the legislature might consider passing a new redistricting plan rather than proceed to trial.

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Amid Differences, a Call to Work Together to Improve Mental Health Treatment

It wasn’t part of her prepared remarks, but Prof. Lucinda Roy of Virginia Tech University may have offered an especially important point as she began her keynote address at a conference Wednesday at Eckstein Hall on mental illness commitment laws and other issues related to mental illness.

It had been an intense, and at times tense, morning before a full house of more than 200 in the Appellate Courtroom. Meg Kissinger, a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, described “Imminent Danger,” the large project she authored which ran in the newspaper in recent weeks. It described how a revolution in American mental commitment laws, which began with a federal court ruling in a case involving a West Allis woman in 1972, had led to far more people with mental illnesses living outside of mental institutions. Some of them refuse treatment and a few have committed violent acts.

Kissinger and the newspaper had been strongly criticized by some members of the audience who thought the series was sensationalistic and left people with a harmful and wrong image of those with mental illnesses as dangerous. One speaker, Tom Zander, a psychologist, lawyer, and long-time prominent advocate for alternatives to mental commitment, had sharply attacked the series as based on what he regarded as false premises, including the notion that the West Allis case had led to specific horrible crimes. (Zander is an adjunct professor at Marquette University Law School.)

Throughout the morning, which included presentations by experts and by family members of people who had long-term mental illnesses, the difficulties of dealing with mental illness, the failings of the current system for helping people, and the high emotions that the subject raises were clear.

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American Indians and Equal Protection

This is the second in a series of posts addressing some of the most commonly asked questions regarding American Indians, Indian Tribes, and the law. The first post addressed casinos, hunting and fishing rights, and taxes. This second post, unlike the first, is devoted to just one question, namely, why doesn’t the unique legal treatment of Indian tribes or their members violate the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection?

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