A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday restored 82 appointees of former Gov. Scott Walker who were confirmed during a lame-duck legislative session, handing a victory to Republicans and defeat to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
The 4-3 order affects 15 of the appointees Evers had not reappointed after a lower court said it was legal for him to essentially fire them. Evers argued the appointees were invalidated after a lower court ruled that the entire lame-duck session, where Republicans took powers away from Evers and the incoming Democratic attorney general, was unconstitutional. Days later, an appeals court put that ruling on hold, creating more confusion about the status of the 15 people Evers did not reappoint.
The underlying legal case over the validity of the lame-duck session continues. The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments on that for May 15.
Evers’ spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, predicted the governor would prevail.
“We are confident that the court will ultimately rule against the Legislature’s unconstitutional attempt to override the will of the people,” she said.
Those affected by Tuesday’s ruling include Public Service Commission member Ellen Nowak and University of Wisconsin Regent Scott Beightol. The Evers’ administration denied Nowak access to her building when she tried to return to work. The Regents took a different approach, allowing Beightol and student Regent Torrey Tiedeman to attend the board’s meeting in April while the legal fight was ongoing.
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Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald heralded the Supreme Court ruling.
“Governor Evers’ actions targeted public servants who are dedicated to working on behalf of Wisconsin citizens,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “I’m glad to see that the Supreme Court has ended this unnecessary constitutional crisis and enforced the return of these individuals to their rightful positions.”
Evers’ refusal to reappoint the 15 people angered Senate Republicans, who have yet to vote on any appointments made by Evers. The governor has dismissed Fitzgerald’s criticism of his action and refusal to confirm his Cabinet members as “huffing and puffing.”
Three weeks ago a Wisconsin appeals court sided with Evers, ruling that he had the authority to withdraw the appointments. That court ruled that Evers’ rescinding of the appointments was not invalidated by a later court ruling that put on hold the decision that allowed him to take the action.
The Supreme Court overturned the appeals court ruling in favor of Evers. The court’s four conservative justices ruled in favor of Republicans, while its three liberal members dissented.
In restoring the positions, the Supreme Court agreed with Republican lawmakers who argued that there is harm to the Legislature, the public and appointees in not allowing the appointees to return to work while the legal fight continues. It could create confusion if Evers were to appoint replacements, the court said. Evers had not named any replacements as of Tuesday.
“The 82 appointees shall immediately be allowed to perform the duties of their respective positions in the same manner as they were performing those duties,” the court said.
The three dissenting justices said the majority ignored the harm of allowing potentially unconstitutional laws to remain in effect.