Republican state lawmakers moved behind the scenes Thursday to hire private law firms to represent them in an ongoing legal battle over Wisconsin’s legislative redistricting.
On party-line votes, the Senate and Assembly organization committees both approved a plan by paper ballot to hire Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Bell Giftos St. John LLC, along with “any other firms, entities or counsel deemed necessary for services.”
The measure did not include any cap on how much the firms might be paid in the end – a move criticized by Democratic leaders. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) argued GOP leadership was writing a “blank check” that taxpayers would have to cover. “This is as open-ended as it can be,” Barca said.
A federal court struck down the 2011 legislative district maps last year, after ruling they were unconstitutional because of how they reduced the impact of Democratic votes. The state Department of Justice is representing the state in an expected appeal, which Barca argued makes having outside legal counsel unnecessary.
Following an Assembly Rules Committee hearing at the Capitol, Assembly Republican Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) refused to answer questions from reporters about the proposal. He referred questions to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), who issued a statement defending the plan as within the rights of the Legislature. “We must ensure that every essential argument is heard before the court to make clear that Wisconsin has legislative maps that are constitutional,” Vos said.