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Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling upholds lame-duck laws
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Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling upholds lame-duck laws

2019-05-15-Supreme Court 3-05152019115334 (copy) (copy)

The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the League of Women Voters lawsuit in May. 

The state Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to the December lame-duck laws that sought to curb the powers of Wisconsin's governor and attorney general. 

The court on a 4-3 decision Friday sided with GOP lawmakers and ordered the extraordinary session laws be upheld, under the suit brought by the League of Women Voters and other groups. 

The lawsuit argued the session wasn't lawfully convened under the state's Constitution, thus rendering the laws invalid. But the conservative majority wrote in its decision the Legislature's actions abided by the Constitution, which "affords the Legislature absolute discretion to determine the rules of its own proceedings."

"The extraordinary session comports with the constitution because it occurred as provided by law," Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote for the majority. "The terminology the Legislature chooses to accomplish the legislative process is squarely the prerogative of the Legislature." 

But the court's three liberal judges disagreed. Justice Rebecca Dallet in her dissent countered the Constitution limits when lawmakers are allowed to meet, adding that "the majority opinion subverts" those provisions. 

The Legislature has convened in extraordinary session over the last 40 years, after it adopted a joint rule in 1977 allowing it to do so. Those sessions can be called by lawmakers and do not need the governor's approval.

The lawsuit also targeted the 82 appointments from then-outgoing Republican Gov. Scott Walker that the Senate approved in the waning days of his administration. Those appointments were also upheld in the court's decision.

Gov. Tony Evers called the ruling "all too predictable," adding it was "based on a desired political outcome, not the plain meaning and text of the constitution."

"The state constitution is clear," he said. "It limits when the legislature can meet to pass laws. Our framers knew that no good comes from lawmakers rushing laws through at the last minute without public scrutiny. The lame-duck session proves the framers were right."

Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, praised the court's decision in a statement and added the suit “has led to an unnecessary waste of taxpayer resources.”

“We urge the governor to work with the Legislature instead of pursuing his political agenda through the courts,” they said.

The December laws, passed by the Legislature's Republican majority and signed by Walker before he left office, gave the Legislature more oversight and influence over some state agencies, limited the powers and scope of the attorney general's office and placed some restrictions on early voting and photo IDs used for voting.

The Supreme Court's actions Friday come after a Dane County judge in March decided to temporarily block the laws. The court later took the case and heard oral arguments last month.

The court last week weighed in on a separate case challenging the laws brought by five unions. A Dane County judge in March put parts of the extraordinary session laws on hold, but the court's ruling made them enforceable again, save for a portion governing "guidance documents," which instruct individuals or entities how to comply with state agency rules. 

At the federal level, a judge in January ruled against Republicans in a challenge from One Wisconsin Institute against the provisions of the extraordinary session laws that reined in the availability of early voting and made adjustments to the state's photo ID voting requirement.

A separate federal case challenging the laws has been brought by the state Democratic Party. 

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Briana Reilly covers state government and politics for the Cap Times. She joined the staff in 2019, after working at Follow her on Twitter at @briana_reilly.

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