The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Monday agreed to take up a case challenging the state’s lame-duck laws, bypassing a lower court to provide closure to a lawsuit that has thrown portions of state government into disarray.
The court granted the plaintiffs in the case — the League of Women Voters, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities and Disability Rights Wisconsin, among others — their request to circumvent the state Court of Appeals and set up a swift timeline scheduling oral arguments in one month.
The order signals the state’s highest court is moving swiftly to adjudicate one of several legal challenges that have incensed Republicans and empowered Democrats. The court’s eventual decision in the League of Women Voters case is unlikely to be the last on the lame-duck laws due to other ongoing challenges in state and federal court.
The League brought the case in January to challenge controversial laws Republicans passed in December that were opposed by Democrats for curbing some of Gov. Tony Evers’ and Attorney General Josh Kaul’s powers before they took office.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued the Legislature illegally convened in extraordinary session in December and legislative leaders committed an abuse of power. GOP legislative leaders convened the extraordinary session under a process set forth in the Legislature’s internal rules.
An attorney for the Republican-controlled Legislature, an intervening defendant in the case, said agreeing with the argument the extraordinary session was convened illegally would produce chaos in state government and put a list of actions resulting from extraordinary sessions at risk of invalidation.
For example, public funding for Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum — which is the Milwaukee Bucks’ home arena and the site hosting the Democratic National Convention in 2020 — was approved during an extraordinary session.
A Dane County judge in March agreed with the plaintiffs’ thinking and blocked enforcement of the laws, allowing Evers to rescind 15 appointments to state boards former Gov. Scott Walker made and the Senate confirmed during the extraordinary session.
A Wisconsin appeals court stayed the Dane County judge’s decision blocking the laws, but a court ruled Evers was within his authority to rescind the appointments since he did so while the lame-duck laws were temporarily suspended.
Despite the appeals court’s decision to stay the ruling preventing enforcement of the lame-duck laws, some of their provisions remain suspended after a Dane County judge in a second case challenging the laws brought by unions ruled they violated the separation of powers.