Wisconsin Judge Blocks GOP Lawmakers’ Lame Duck Power Grab

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) addresses the Assembly during a contentious legislative session on December 4, 2018 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Andy Manis/Getty Images)

A Wisconsin judge has blocked a set of laws that Republican lawmakers pushed through in a December lame duck session to curb the power of newly elected Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported Thursday.

Dane County Judge Richard Niess issued a temporary injunction, ruling that Republican leaders violated the state constitution by calling an extraordinary session to force the legislation through before Democratic leaders could assume their posts.

The sweeping legislation, signed by outgoing Republican Gov. Scott Walker shortly before he left office, eliminated Evers’ ability to withdraw the state from lawsuits without legislative approval, among other restrictions. The legislature, not Kaul, would have full discretion over how to spend money obtained from lawsuit settlements under the new laws.

Hours after the ruling came down, Evers ordered Kaul to make good on one of his campaign promises: to withdraw Wisconsin from a multi-state lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

In a motion to withdraw, Kaul’s office said that, “The State of Wisconsin no longer has an interest in pursuing its claims before the district court and no longer has an
interest in defending the appeal before this Court.”

A coalition of liberal-leaning groups, including the League of Women Voters and Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, filed a lawsuit in January over the lame-duck session. They argued that the Wisconsin constitution only permits the legislature to meet during regularly-scheduled sessions or if “convened by the governor” in a special session.

Judge Niess agreed that legislative leaders cannot simply call their body into session as they please.

“Today’s victory is a huge win for fairness in our system of government,”  League of Women Voters president Chris Carson said in a statement. “Elected officials have a duty to respect the state constitution under which they serve and honor the will of the voters above their own political interests. The actions of the Wisconsin legislature undermined the peaceful transfer of power that voters expected when they elected new leadership.”

Republicans have countered that Wisconsin had passed many state laws under similar circumstances over the past several decades, and they are planning to appeal.

“Today’s ruling only creates chaos and will surely raise questions about items passed during previous extraordinary sessions, including stronger laws against child sexual predators and drunk drivers,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and House Speaker Robin Vos said in a joint statement, according to the Journel-Sentinel’s Molly Beck. “We will appeal this ruling.”

This post has been updated. 

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