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Fourth legal challenge filed to GOP lame-duck laws stripping powers from Tony Evers, Josh Kaul
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Fourth legal challenge filed to GOP lame-duck laws stripping powers from Tony Evers, Josh Kaul

From the Read the latest coverage of the GOP lame-duck laws and efforts to block them series

Republican state lawmakers face a fourth court challenge to laws they passed in a December lame-duck session to curtail the powers of incoming Gov. Tony Evers — this one from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, contending the laws violate the rights of Democratic activists and voters who elected him.

Meanwhile Thursday, Evers’ attorneys said he supports a request by a group of unions in one of the other legal challenges to the GOP laws, asking a judge to block parts of them from taking effect.

And Attorney General Josh Kaul, whose powers also were curtailed by the laws, revealed in a recent court filing that his office will not defend them against the legal challenge brought by unions.

The new lawsuit is the latest legal fallout from the GOP laws, signed by former Gov. Scott Walker just before he left office.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin and eight individual plaintiffs filed suit in federal court Thursday. Their complaint alleges the GOP laws violated their rights under the U.S. Constitution to representative government, free association and equal protection, in part “by discriminating against (plaintiffs) based on political viewpoint.”

State Democratic Party chairwoman Martha Laning called the laws “a bald-faced undermining of the incoming administration.”

The court complaint, citing public statements by GOP legislators explaining their rationale for the laws, says they were enacted “for the obvious purpose and effect of undoing the clear intent of the majority of voters.”

“The acts thus violate basic principles of representative government inherent in our republican form of government,” the complaint contends.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, one of several GOP legislative leaders named as defendants in the lawsuits, said he’s not concerned by them and believes courts ultimately will uphold the laws. Speaking at an event hosted by the website WisPolitics, Vos said the laws were part of an effort to “rebalance the powers as the way they were intended.”

A separate statement from Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Evers’ and Kaul’s actions in the challenge brought by unions solidifies the need for GOP lawmakers to hire attorneys to represent them in the case.

“It also reveals their intent to collude with their liberal allies to work around the Legislature to advance their agenda,” Vos and Fitzgerald said.

The disclosure from Evers’ attorneys comes in a brief they filed Wednesday in the union-led lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court. It contends the GOP laws violate the state constitution‘s separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches.

Without a judge blocking implementation of the challenged provisions, it “will make executing the law, rendering services to the citizens and businesses of Wisconsin, and using tax dollars in an efficient manner practically impossible,” Evers’ attorneys argued in the brief.

Evers’ attorneys in the case are Lester Pines, Tamara Packard, Christa Westerberg and Beauregard Patterson, all of the Madison firm Pines Bach.

Meanwhile, a recent court filing submitted by Assistant Attorneys General Thomas Bellavia and Colin Roth says the state Department of Justice contends parts of the laws are unconstitutional.

“In light of its substantial interest in the case’s outcome, DOJ’s position is that it has no duty to defend the legislation at issue,” the filing says.

The challenge to the lame-duck laws was brought by plaintiffs including Service Employees International Union, Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers, American Federation of Teachers and Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. Nine individual plaintiffs in the case include state Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Mason.

The suit contends the GOP laws are “a clear attempt by one branch, the Legislature, upset by an electoral outcome affecting another branch, to undo the separation of powers” in the state constitution.

The laws curtailed early voting and barred Evers and Kaul from inheriting certain powers given to previous governors and attorneys general, such as the power to end the state’s involvement in litigation. Other provisions strictly limited, in the short term, the governor’s ability to control the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

Another lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and other groups contends the so-called “extraordinary session” held by GOP lawmakers to pass the laws was unconstitutional.

Also, liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now has sought to overturn the provisions of the lame-duck law that curtailed access to early voting. A federal judge last month blocked those changes as part of a previous injunction against an earlier law limiting early voting.

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