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Lame duck order

Justice Rebecca Bradley of the Wisconsin Supreme Court hears oral arguments.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday reinstated for now several powers Republican lawmakers gave the Legislature during a December lame-duck session.

The order, in a second major case challenging the laws that passed after a Democrat was elected governor but before he took office, reinstates a law that reduced the power of Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul to drop out of or settle cases. It was issued less than 24 hours before a trial in the Dane County court case was set to begin.

The ruling means that for now Kaul can no longer compromise or end most lawsuits brought on behalf of the state without Legislative approval. Kaul is now also prevented from compromising or settling an action brought against the state without a Legislative committee signing off. The law will remain in effect unless the Supreme Court decides to overturn it when it rules on multiple challenges to the law in the coming days or weeks.

Using such authority given to him by a state judge’s order, Kaul had withdrawn Wisconsin from a multi-state lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act.

The only provision the Supreme Court allowed to remain suspended affects so-called guidance documents, which tell regulated businesses how to comply with state agency rules. The high court’s order prevents from going into effect a requirement that state agencies finish certifying many of those documents by July 1.

“Today’s ruling is a win for the people of Wisconsin,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.”The Supreme Court correctly decided the statutes enacted by the Legislature should remain in effect. We are confident that the constitutionality of these laws will be upheld when the Court hears the full case in the coming months.”

The Supreme Court ruling will remain in place until it issues its final decision.

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The order is from a case brought by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1, other unions and state Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Mason, against controversial laws Republicans passed in December that curb the governor’s and attorney general’s powers.

The Supreme Court by a split decision in April decided it would take over the appeal in the case. It did so voluntarily, without a motion from any of the parties involved, a relatively rare move. Parts of the case were set for trial on Wednesday and Thursday in Dane County Court, but the Supreme Court’s order suspended it pending a further order from the high court.

The unions argue parts of the GOP laws violate the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches.

The 4-3 order from conservative-backed members of the court comes about a month after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in another major case from the League of Women Voters and other groups challenging the lame-duck laws.

The court’s conservative-backed majority signaled skepticism of the challengers’ argument, which focuses on the legitimacy of the extraordinary session Republicans convened to pass their controversial legislation.

Lawyers wanting the lame-duck laws thrown out argue extraordinary sessions, in which lawmakers call themselves into action outside of a regular session, are invalid and not sanctioned by law or the state Constitution.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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