Federal judges affirm transparency in redistricting

Open government in the news


The decision released today by a panel of federal judges in Milwaukee contains some strong language regarding the secrecy of the process. It says (p. 5) that “Every effort was made to keep this work out of the public eye” and (p. 34) called the bill’s drafting “needlessly secret, regrettably excluding input from the overwhelming majority of Wisconsin citizens.”

This follows several earlier rulings by the panel, authored by Federal Judge J.P. Stadtmueller, which I compiled for another purpose and present here:

From his Jan. 3, 2012 ruling ordering the release of records:

“Quite frankly, the Legislature and the actions of its counsel give every appearance of flailing wildly in a desperate attempt to hide from both the court and the public the true nature of exactly what transpired in the redistricting process.”

From his Feb. 16, 2012 ruling denying claims that some documents can be withheld due to attorney-client privilege:

“Without a doubt, the Legislature made a conscious choice to involve private lawyers in what gives every appearance of an attempt—albeit poorly disguised—to cloak the private machinations of Wisconsin’s Republican legislators in the shroud of attorney-client privilege. What could have—indeed should have—been accomplished publicly instead took place in private, in an all but shameful attempt to hide the redistricting process from public scrutiny.”

Statement by Judge Stadtmueller, from a Feb. 21 hearing, as reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“The facts are the facts, and what has occurred here is beyond the pale in terms of lack of transparency (and) secrecy. Appearances are everything, and Wisconsin has prided itself one generation after another on openness and fairness in doing the right thing. And to be frank we have seen everything but that in the way this case has proceeded.”

The Freedom of Information Council of course takes no position on the particulars of the redistricting maps, but we do take note of the clarity which with this panel, especially Judge Stadtmueller, has affirmed transparency as a preeminent Wisconsin value.