Judge Blocks Lame Duck Laws
Republicans will appeal. Evers and Kaul quickly drop state from suit against Affordable Care Act.
A judge has struck down the laws Wisconsin Republicans passed in December’s lame-duck session of the Legislature, restoring powers to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, if only temporarily.
Dane County Judge Richard Niess ruled Thursday that all of the laws and appointments passed by legislators were unlawful because they met in what’s known as an “extraordinary session,” which isn’t explicitly allowed under the state constitution.
“There can be no justification for enforcement of the unconstitutional legislative actions emanating from the December 2018 ‘Extraordinary Session’ that is consistent with the rule of law,” Niess wrote.
“As the governor has requested, please take whatever steps are necessary to remove Wisconsin from Texas v. United States,” wrote Evers’ chief legal counsel, Ryan Nilsestuen in an email to the DOJ shortly after Niess’ ruling was released.
Shortly afterward, Kaul’s office announced it had filed motions to withdraw Wisconsin from the Obamacare lawsuit. Evers and Kaul campaigned on leaving the case, but one of the lame-duck laws has prevented them from following through on their pledge.
It was initially unclear whether Evers would use the ruling to exercise other powers that were held by his predecessor, former Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
In theory, the decision could let Evers rescind several federal waiver requests that were initiated by Walker, including a new work requirement for Medicaid recipients and mandatory drug testing for people who sign up for FoodShare.
Niess’ ruling also struck down 82 appointments Walker made during the waning days of his administration, all of which were confirmed by Republican state Senators in the lame-duck session. Those appointments included Public Service Commissioner Ellen Nowak and University of Wisconsin Regent Scott Beightol, both of whom were confirmed in December to terms that end in 2023.
“The appointments are ordered temporarily vacated as a necessary consequence of this temporary injunction,” Niess wrote.
If Niess’ ruling holds, those appointments would now be Evers’ to make.
Evers issued a statement praising the ruling, calling it a victory for the people and one that preserves the Wisconsin Constitution.
“The Legislature overplayed its hand by using an unlawful process to accumulate more power for itself and override the will of the people, despite the outcome of last November’s election,” Evers said. “I look forward to putting this disappointing chapter behind us so we can move forward together to put the needs of the people of Wisconsin first.”
What remains to be seen is whether a higher court will step in to block Evers from taking further action.
Niess rejected a request by the attorney for GOP legislators that would have “stayed” his decision, or kept the lame-duck laws in effect while this case is appealed. But the final say in this case still falls to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, where conservatives hold a 4-3 majority.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, promised to appeal the ruling, saying in a statement that it ran contrary to the way the Legislature had done business for years.
“For decades the Legislature has used extraordinary sessions that have been widely supported by members of both parties,” they said. “Today’s ruling only creates chaos and will surely raise questions about items passed during previous extraordinary sessions.”
The lawsuit was brought by a coalition of plaintiffs that includes the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Disability Rights Wisconsin, Inc. and Black Leaders Organizing for Communities. Unlike other lawsuits challenging the lame-duck session, their case was built entirely on a procedural argument.
The groups argued that the entire lame-duck session was unlawful because the Legislature met in what’s known as an “extraordinary session,” which isn’t explicitly allowed under the state constitution.
Unlike special sessions, which have been called by Wisconsin governors dating back to 1861, extraordinary sessions are called by lawmakers when they’re not scheduled to be at the state Capitol. Legislators have done that about two dozen times in Wisconsin, with the first extraordinary session occurring in 1980, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau.
During arguments in the case on Monday, the Legislature’s attorney, Misha Tseytlin, argued that striking down one extraordinary session would mean striking down all of them. Tseytlin said that would include striking down laws that spell out prison terms for sex offenders.
Niess rejected that argument in his ruling.
“The Legislature attempts to scare this Court into abandoning its duty to vacate unconstitutional laws by urging an alarmist domino-theory collapse of laws previously produced by ‘extraordinary sessions,'” Niess wrote. “This theory is unsupported by either law or facts in this record, it’s pure speculation, and, most importantly, not at issue under this Court’s temporary injunction, which is expressly limited to the laws enacted in December 2018.”
The League of Women Voters case is one of four challenging the lame-duck session of the Legislature.
A federal judge ruled against Republicans in January, blocking laws that were passed in the lame-duck session that limited early voting.
Another federal case filed by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin argues the lame-duck laws violate the U.S. Constitution’s Guarantee Clause, which guarantees every state the right to a republican form of government.
And another state lawsuit, brought in Dane County Circuit Court by Service Employees International Union and others in organized labor, contends the lame-duck laws violate the state constitution’s separation of powers protections. A hearing is scheduled in that case for Monday.
Judge Blocks GOP Laws Passed In Lame-Duck Session was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.
More about the Lame Duck Laws
- State Supreme Court Reviews Lame Duck Laws - Ruth Conniff - Oct 22nd, 2019
- Kaul Says Lame Duck Law Costs Taxpayers - Melanie Conklin - Sep 10th, 2019
- Democrats’ Bill Repeals Lame Duck Law - Laurel White - Sep 6th, 2019
- GOP Bungling Could Cost Wisconsin Taxpayers Millions - State Sen. Jennifer Shilling - Sep 4th, 2019
- Murphy’s Law: Lame Duck Laws Hurting the State - Bruce Murphy - Sep 4th, 2019
- Questions Swirl Around State Budget Committee Republicans’ Hiring of Lawyer/Lobbyist at Taxpayer Expense - One Wisconsin Now - Sep 4th, 2019
- Lame Duck Laws Opposed Overwhelmingly - Erik Gunn - Sep 4th, 2019
- Sen. Alberta Darling’s Corrupt Lame Duck Law Puts Settlement Funds At Risk - State Senate Democratic Committee - Aug 28th, 2019
- Serious Flaws in Republican Lame Duck Laws on Display in Joint Finance Committee - State Rep. Gordon Hintz - Aug 27th, 2019
- GOP Suit Slaps Kaul on Lame Duck Laws - Melanie Conklin - Aug 2nd, 2019
- State Supreme Court Upholds Lame-Duck Laws - Laurel White - Jun 21st, 2019
- Gov. Evers Releases Statement Relating to Wisconsin Supreme Court Decision - Gov. Tony Evers - Jun 21st, 2019
- Wisconsin Budget: Lame Duck Mistake Reopens Tax Debate - Jon Peacock - Jun 12th, 2019
- High Court Reinstates Lame Duck Laws - Shawn Johnson - Jun 12th, 2019
- The State of Politics: An Uphill Fight for ‘Lame Duck’ Challengers? - Steven Walters - May 20th, 2019
- Conservatives Argue Against Lame-Duck Lawsuit - Shawn Johnson - May 16th, 2019
- Op Ed: Constitutional Boundaries Need Enforcement - Erin Grunze - May 10th, 2019
- Supreme Court Restores Lame Duck Appointees - Shawn Johnson - May 1st, 2019
- Former Lawmakers, WILL Enter Extraordinary Session Lawsuit - Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty - Apr 23rd, 2019
- Appeals Court Sides with Evers on Appointees - Shawn Johnson - Apr 10th, 2019
- GOP Asks Court to Restore Walker Appointees - Laurel White - Apr 2nd, 2019
- Evers, GOP Fight Over Walker Appointees - Laurel White - Mar 30th, 2019
- Appeals Court Restores Some Lame Duck Laws - Laurel White - Mar 28th, 2019
- Joint Statement: Appellate Court Decision on the Extraordinary Session - Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald - Mar 27th, 2019
- Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald Sends Letter to Appointees Impacted By Governor Evers’ Actions - Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald - Mar 27th, 2019
- Second Judge Rules Against Lame Duck Laws - Laurel White - Mar 27th, 2019
- Arguments Begin on 2nd Lame Duck Suit - Laurel White - Mar 25th, 2019
- Dane County Court’s New Level of Judicial Activism Throws Wisconsin Into Chaos - MacIver Institute - Mar 25th, 2019
- Representative LaKeshia Myers Issues a Statement Regarding the Lame Duck Court Ruling - State Rep. LaKeshia Myers - Mar 21st, 2019
- Judge Blocks Lame Duck Laws - Shawn Johnson - Mar 21st, 2019
- Gov. Evers Releases Statement on Dane County Court’s Ruling on Lame-Duck Session - Gov. Tony Evers - Mar 21st, 2019
- Evers Joins Unions on Lame Duck Suit - Shawn Johnson - Feb 25th, 2019
- Fourth Lawsuit Against Lame Duck Laws - Shawn Johnson - Feb 22nd, 2019
- DPW Files Federal Lawsuit Over Republicans’ Lame-Duck Power Grab - Democratic Party of Wisconsin - Feb 21st, 2019
- Rep. Spreitzer, Sen. Ringhand Propose Lame Duck Limits - State Rep. Mark Spreitzer - Feb 11th, 2019
- Judge Blocks Lame Duck Voting Restrictions - Laurel White - Jan 18th, 2019
- Rep. Jimmy Anderson Seeks to Void the Wisconsin Power Grab - State Rep. Jimmy Anderson - Jan 10th, 2019
- Op Ed: Lame Duck Mischief Defamed the State - Spencer Black - Jan 2nd, 2019
- Campaign Cash: Lame Duck Law Helped Ashley Furniture - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - Dec 20th, 2018
- Op Ed: Liberals All Wrong on Early Voting Law - Rick Esenberg - Dec 20th, 2018
- Op Ed: We the Irrelevant People - Sheila Plotkin - Dec 19th, 2018
- History Repeats With Latest Post-Election Republican Attack on Early Voting - One Wisconsin Now - Dec 19th, 2018
- Kaul Calls Lame Duck Laws ‘Terrible’ - Mary Kate McCoy - Dec 19th, 2018
- Court Challenge to Voting Restrictions Filed - Laurel White - Dec 18th, 2018
- Murphy’s Law: State Facing Endless Lawsuits? - Bruce Murphy - Dec 18th, 2018
- One Wisconsin Institute Files Request for Court to Enforce Rulings Striking Down Republican Lame Duck Restrictions on Voting - One Wisconsin Institute - Dec 17th, 2018
- Motion to Block Early Voting Restrictions to be Filed Today - Citizen Action of Wisconsin - Dec 17th, 2018
- Carpenter: Require ‘Lame Duck” Bills to Supermajority Votes - State Sen. Tim Carpenter - Dec 17th, 2018
- Op Ed: Lame Duck Bills Too Rushed, Secretive - Erin Grunze - Dec 16th, 2018
- Walker Signs Lame Duck Bills - Laurel White - Dec 14th, 2018
- Rep. Zamarripa Statement on Lame Duck Bills - State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa - Dec 14th, 2018
- One Wisconsin Institute Announces Coming Legal Action Against GOP ‘Lame Duck’ Voting Rights Attacks - One Wisconsin Institute - Dec 14th, 2018
- Governor Walker just sealed his legacy as the worst Governor in state history - State Sen. Chris Larson - Dec 14th, 2018
- Governor Walker Signs Extraordinary Session Legislation into Law in Green Bay - Gov. Scott Walker - Dec 14th, 2018
- Governor-elect Tony Evers Statement on Kimberly-Clark Announcement - Gov. Tony Evers - Dec 13th, 2018
- Walker Defends Lame Duck Bills - Laurel White - Dec 12th, 2018
- Murphy’s Law: Republicans’ Plan for Permanent Power - Bruce Murphy - Dec 11th, 2018
- Lame Duck Law Adds Work For State Agencies - Rich Kremer - Dec 11th, 2018
- Lawmakers Change How WEDC Tracks Jobs - Laurel White - Dec 10th, 2018
- Op Ed: Republican Power Grab Unprecedented - State Sen. Chris Larson - Dec 10th, 2018
- The State of Politics: 5 Reasons for Republican Power Play - Steven Walters - Dec 10th, 2018
- Campaign Cash: WMC Behind New Anti-Regulation Bill - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - Dec 7th, 2018
- Wisconsin Budget: One More Tax Cut For The Wealthy - Tamarine Cornelius - Dec 7th, 2018
- City Beat: Episode 002 - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 6th, 2018
- Lame-Duck Bill Changes Highway Funding - Rich Kremer - Dec 6th, 2018
- Murphy’s Law: What Will Scott Walker’s Legacy Be? - Bruce Murphy - Dec 6th, 2018
- Governor Walker: What Will Your Message To Gov.-Elect Evers Be? - State Sen. Tim Carpenter - Dec 6th, 2018
- WI & MI GOP Attempt to Undermine the Voice of Voters, Put Democracy and Safety at Risk - Democratic Attorneys General Association - Dec 6th, 2018
- Your Right to Know: Lame Duck Laws All About Secrecy - Dee J. Hall - Dec 5th, 2018
- Data Wonk: The Republican War Against Democracy - Bruce Thompson - Dec 5th, 2018
- Extraordinary Session Update: Legislature Approves Critical Reforms - Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty - Dec 5th, 2018
- Rep. Gwen Moore Statement on Republican Power Grab - U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore - Dec 5th, 2018
- Statement on Lame Duck Session - State Rep. Evan Goyke - Dec 5th, 2018
- Legislature Works Overnight To Curb Evers Power - Shawn Johnson and Laurel White - Dec 5th, 2018
- Governor-elect Tony Evers Statement on Extraordinary Session - Gov. Tony Evers - Dec 5th, 2018
- Republican’s Holiday Gift to Wisconsin: An Assault on Democracy - State Sen. Janis Ringhand - Dec 5th, 2018
- Unprecedented Power Grab Will Break Wisconsin for Years to Come - State Sen. Chris Larson - Dec 5th, 2018
- Senator Taylor Believes GOP Are Taking Career Ending Votes - State Sen. Lena Taylor - Dec 4th, 2018
- Bill Curbing Evers’ Power Moves to Legislature - Shawn Johnson and Laurel White - Dec 4th, 2018
- Extraordinary Session Policy Items Flying Under the Radar - Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty - Dec 4th, 2018
- Will Republican Legislature Risk Contempt With Scheme to Enact New Limits on Early Voting? - One Wisconsin Now - Dec 4th, 2018
- Representative Lisa Subeck Statement on the Extraordinary Session - State Rep. Lisa Subeck - Dec 4th, 2018
- Power Tends to Corrupt, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely - State Rep. Jimmy Anderson - Dec 4th, 2018
- Governor-elect Tony Evers’ Testimony to the Joint Committee on Finance Opposing Extraordinary Session Legislation - Gov. Tony Evers - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Eight Days After November Election Republican Assembly Leader Robin Vos Requested New Restrictions on Early Voting - One Wisconsin Now - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Op Ed: GOP Bills Change 400 Sections of State Law - State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Rep. Brostoff Statement on Republican Effort to Override Will of Wisconsin Voters - State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Conservation Voters issue statement on lame duck bills - Wisconsin Conservation Voters - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Evers Will Fight Plan to Limit His Power - Corri Hess - Dec 3rd, 2018
- GOP Lame Duck Session Targets Evers - Laurel White - Dec 3rd, 2018
- ACLU of Wisconsin’s Board of Directors condemns lame duck session - American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Stop the Wisconsin GOP power grab - Indivisible Madison - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Election defeat leads to GOP temper tantrum - State Sen. Jennifer Shilling - Nov 30th, 2018
- Vos Republicans: ‘Too Many People Voted’ - One Wisconsin Now - Nov 30th, 2018