An Uphill Fight for ‘Lame Duck’ Challengers?
Wisconsin’s history shows legislative sessions are legal and necessary -- and the courts have backed them.
For almost four decades, Wisconsin legislators – Democrats and Republicans – have brought themselves back to the Capitol for “extraordinary” sessions to act on issues big and small.
Examples of bills passed in extraordinary sessions:
The aid package that built Fiserv Arena, home of the Milwaukee (“Fear the Deer”) Bucks. Spending bills. New legislative district lines. A right-to-work law. Ratification of dozens of negotiated contracts with state employee unions.
Records show a 2004 extraordinary session acted on 153 items; a similar session in November 2015, 118 items, and in April 1998, 100 items.
Widespread acceptance of extraordinary sessions as part of the legislative process is a big reason why the League of Women Voters (LWV), other groups and Gov. Tony Evers who are challenging what passed in the December extraordinary session face an uphill fight.
Consider how Justice Rebecca Grassl Bradley, during oral arguments in the case last week, greeted the attorney for groups arguing that everything legislators did in that “lame duck” session should be voided.
“You are asking this court to rule that the Wisconsin Legislature has been acting unconstitutionally for four decades? How can that be?” Grassl Bradley said, adding:
“Don’t you find it extraordinary that nobody raised this issue before this court for four decades?”
Undeterred, LWV attorney Jeff Mandell insisted that almost four decades of past, unchallenged actions in extraordinary sessions doesn’t make them legal.
Instead, Mandell said the Wisconsin Constitution stipulates that legislators set a formal calendar for the Legislature to act, or the governor can call a special legislative session, but there is no implied or explicit authority for “extraordinary” sessions.
The fact that legislators for years have been playing “fast and loose” with the Constitution doesn’t make it right, Mandell said.
When lawmakers ended their regular session in March 2018, they could not legally return for what amounts to an illegal “perpetual” session in December, Mandell added.
LWV, unions, other groups and Evers want to void the Legislature’s December acts that limited the powers of the governor and attorney general and approved 82 final appointments made by outgoing Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Although lower courts ruled that all or parts of those December acts and appointments were illegal, the Supreme Court quickly took over the cases. It is expected to rule on the case within weeks.
The case poses historical separation of powers issues, since the judicial branch will have the final say in a dispute between the executive branch that Evers leads and the Republican-controlled legislative branch.
Grassl Bradley wasn’t the only justice casting doubt on Mandell’s arguments, however.
“The Constitution says [the Legislature] shall meet ‘as provided by law’,” noted Justice Daniel Kelly.
“That allows the Legislature and the governor to decide when and how, and how often, it’s going to meet,” Kelly added. “If they decide they are going to meet for two years at a time…The statute allows for that.”
No, Mandell said, if the Legislature wants to meet in an “extraordinary” session, it must pass a law expressly allowing it to do so. But it hasn’t passed that law, he added.
Justice Rebecca Dallet noted that simply passing that law legalizing extraordinary sessions would resolve the controversy.
Representing Evers, attorney Tamara Packard said authors of the State Constitution in 1848 intended to “limit where, when a how the Legislature could meet …[to] safeguard liberty.”
But Chief Justice Pat Roggensack also sharply questioned Mandell’s interpretations of the Constitution and laws. “I don’t understand you, either,” she told him at one point.
“Sometimes, new needs do arise,” Tseytlin said, adding:
“Sometimes, the Milwaukee Bucks threaten to leave town and the Legislature has got to come back in and fund and authorize an arena so the Milwaukee Bucks don’t move out of state.
“That’s exactly why the Legislature doesn’t dissolve itself at the end of a prescheduled floor period.”
In a recent WisconsinEye interview, former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, who served for 20 years in the Assembly, and former Democratic Assembly Speaker Tom Loftus, the longest-serving Democratic speaker, agreed on one thing: Extraordinary legislative sessions are legal, and necessary.
More about the Lame Duck Laws
- 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 League of 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