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Walters: Redistricting fight resurfaces in US Supreme Court

It was a reasonable question: Did a U.S. Supreme Court order that told Pennsylvania legislators to immediately redraw the districts of U.S. House members signal how the court would rule in the challenge to Wisconsin Assembly districts?

No, according to attorneys on both sides of the Wisconsin case.

But, they add, a redistricting case from Maryland that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear March 28 may offer the next clue in how the court rules in the Wisconsin case.

“There’s huge difference between the Wisconsin and Pennsylvania cases,” said Rick Esenberg, president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, or WILL.

WILL filed a legal brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Assembly districts Republicans drew in 2011. The boundaries of three Assembly districts form one state Senate district.

Individuals and groups who sued to void those districts argued that they were illegally stacked in favor of Republicans, who began the 2017-18 session with 64 seats in the 99-member Assembly.

But the Pennsylvania case will have “no bearing” on the court’s decision in the Wisconsin case, agreed Doug Poland, one of the attorneys who asked the court to adopt a new standard that voids legislative districts blatantly drawn to favor one party or the other.

Federal judges agreed with the arguments of Poland and others, prompting the U.S. Supreme Court to accept the Wisconsin case. Oral arguments were held in October.

While the Wisconsin case was pending, the court set aside an order telling the Wisconsin Legislature to redraw the districts this year.

The Pennsylvania case is intriguing because it also involved districts—for Pennsylvania’s 19 U.S. House seats—drawn by Republican legislators.

And, in an order issued by Justice Samuel Alito, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a Pennsylvania Supreme Court order that told Republicans to immediately draw new districts for primary elections only weeks away.

But Esenberg and Poland say the Pennsylvania case turned on that state’s supreme court interpretation of the state constitution—a much different question than the issue posed by the Wisconsin case.

“State supreme courts are the final arbiters of what state law means and requires,” Esenberg said. “Whatever limits are found in Pennsylvania’s constitution wouldn’t apply in any other state.”

The Wisconsin case involves “an entirely different law” than the Pennsylvania controversy, Poland said.

Poland added: “We’ll see how the argument goes in Benisek on March 28, and then we’ll just have to wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling.”

In the Maryland case—Benisek versus Lamone—the court will decide whether Democratic legislators illegally redrew the boundaries of a U.S. House district to make a Democratic victory likely.

Democratic legislators “reshuffled fully half of the district’s 720,000 residents—far more than necessary to correct the mere 10,000-person imbalance in the district’s population following the 2010 census,” a lawyer for Maryland Republicans argued.

According to the Washington Post, that change “resulted in a more than 90,000-voter swing in favor of Democrats, and the share of registered Republicans fell from 47 percent to 33 percent.”

“No other congressional district anywhere in the nation saw so large a swing in its partisan complexion following the 2010 census,” the lawyer for Maryland Republicans added.

Esenberg said scholars disagree on why the Supreme Court took the Maryland case before deciding the Wisconsin one.

“One theory is that they took Benisek because they could adopt a narrower rule that warrants more limited judicial evaluation of map drawing,” Esenberg said, adding: “If that’s so, it signals that the [Wisconsin case] plaintiffs might lose. Another is that they want to ding both Democratic and Republican gerrymandering.”

The Maryland case also would give the court a way to punish “First Amendment retaliation”—the idea that party leaders draw new district lines to punish voters for electing members of the opposing party, Esenberg noted.

On March 28, “I am sure that everyone will be parsing what the justices say and trying to decide what it ‘signals’ for” the Wisconsin case, Esenberg added.

If the U.S. Supreme Court ordered new Wisconsin districts to be drawn, would they have to be in place for Nov. 6 elections? The deadline for candidates to file petitions to run in those districts is June 1, which would give candidates—and voters—only a few weeks to get to know each other.

Our Views: Thumbs up/down for Monday, Feb. 19

To Valentine’s Day haters. Some people see a capitalist conspiracy everywhere, but don’t buy into their cynical rejection of Valentine’s Day. We could all use more

love to counter the heavy daily doses of vitriol corrupting our culture and politics. Showing love every day is important, but it’s also important to pour on a little extra affection for Valentine’s Day. If cards and flowers aren’t your thing, there are many other ways to express love. The point isn’t to spend money but to demonstrate thoughtfulness. Some Valentine’s Day haters are simply being lazy and cloaking their laziness in claims of taking a principled stand against commercialism. Drop the cynicism and make an effort, such as with a homemade Valentine card offering five hours of foot massages—better yet, 10 hours.

To paczki: What a delicious way to spend Fat Tuesday, stuffing our mouths with these cream-filled Polish doughnuts. Forget about caloric intake—Fat Tuesday is the

last chance to engorge before Lent. The day is becoming more popular, even among some atheists who also appreciate an excuse to eat excessively. As it stands, local bakeries make thousands of paczki (pronounced PAWNCH-kee) ahead of Fat Tuesday. While these businesses are doing well, sales could go higher if more people celebrated Fat Tuesday with a paczki. Indeed, paczki could become Janesville’s next economic development opportunity. Just like Racine is famous for its Danish kringle, Janesville could become home of the paczki. And like with kringle, paczki could be sold year-round, except of course during Lent. We’ve already envisioned a marketing slogan: “Paczki—it’s not just for Fat Tuesday anymore.”

To coffee with Brian Raupp. The Orfordville police chief is having “Coffee with the Chief” events at area businesses, and it’s a good example of community policing.

Policing isn’t only about patrolling neighborhoods and responding to residents’ calls. It’s also about building rapport with residents, and Raupp, who’s been on the job for only about a month, is getting to know his community better one cup of coffee at a time. Other local officials might consider doing something similar, arranging informal gatherings to chat with residents about issues, or maybe about the weather or the score of last night’s basketball game. Visiting with a police chief over coffee (even if it’s decaf) might seem trivial, but it’s really a long-term investment. In meeting with residents, Raupp is helping to build trust in the police, and that’s a terrific feeling.

To melting snow. We finally get several inches of the white fluffy stuff and—poof—it starts melting the next week (cue the “game over” music). What a shame,

especially for the local skiers and sledders. They’ve waited all winter for several inches of snow and went through most of January staring despondently at brown grass. Just when their hearts started to flutter at the prospect of zooming along trails and hills, the temperatures started to rise. Now their faces are sad again. Sure, 40 degrees feels nice on the skin—and we’re not wishing for a return to frigid wind chills—but we want a few weeks in the mid-teens to low-20s. What’s wrong with getting some snow and letting it stick around for a while? Is that too much to ask of Mother Nature, a little cooperation?

Skenazy: Little Johnny doesn't know how to jump. Here's why


A study in Ireland has found that kids are losing the agility and basic physical skills we used to take for granted—skills such as jumping, running, being able to catch a ball.

An Irish Times article titled “Why are so many 12-year-olds unable to run, jump or catch?” was prompted by a study at Dublin City University that found these alarming stats:

Among 12- and 13-year-olds, 13 percent could master the vertical jump, 11 percent could master skipping, 29 percent could master the horizontal jump, 45 percent could master the overhand throw and 48 percent could strike a ball.

The Times notes that “skills that were generally mastered by six-year-olds are now out of reach for many children by the time they reach 13. These findings all point to one thing: we are sliding towards a crisis in public health and fitness.”

Kids who don’t start out physically fit are unlikely to suddenly start playing hopscotch at 35. So the key is to start playing young. And the key word here is “playing.”

Though the researchers conclude that “a major challenge will involve re-educating a new generation of young people about skills once considered routine” and that we must “build the teaching of these skills into preschools and primary schools,” I’d say that what we really need to build into preschools and primary schools is not more adult-led instruction but free time for free play.

Kids do not need to be painstakingly taught how to skip and hop by adults. Few children learned how to “steal the bacon” in serious sessions with trained professionals or even their parents. They learn when they are running around with their friends. In fact, when something becomes a class, kids—being human just like us—are less likely to do it, because now it has been defined as work. For instance, I loved jumping rope but hated all the calisthenics we were taught in phys ed.

One was a joy; the other, a chore and a bore.

Giving kids back time to play should be a priority. A new book by William Stixrud and Ned Johnson is already getting attention because its title says it all: “The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives.” When kids have some un-micromanaged moments, they discover their own drive, interests and grit.

But seeing as it is hard for kids to just run outside and find other kids to play with in these structured, supervised days, the nonprofit I run, Let Grow, is recommending that schools stay open from 3 to 6 p.m. for after-school free play.

With the gym or playground open and an adult somewhere on the premises—available for emergencies, but not organizing the play—kids have a critical mass of other kids to play with in a place their parents trust. They have time to let their play unfold and friends of different ages to learn from and teach. There’s nothing more heartwarming than to see a socially awkward 9-year-old become a hero to a gaggle of first-graders.

So yes, they’ll learn hopping and jumping. They’ll also learn empathy, creativity and all the social and emotional skills we’re worried about these days, too.

Consider free play an after-school enrichment class that just happens to train the body, as well as the mind, heart and soul.

This is not just a “good idea.” It is one that can transform kids and their future, by allowing them to develop instead of just comply.