Wisconsin Supreme Court Sides With GOP Lawmakers To Limit Democratic Governor’s Power

June 21, 2019

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Republican state lawmakers and upheld laws limiting the power of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

The state’s December 2018 lame-duck session of the legislature passed a number of laws curbing Evers’ power, including one that barred him from authorizing the state’s departure from a federal lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act.

Evers campaigned on leaving that lawsuit.

Lawmakers also limited Evers’ ability to change existing state laws through executive action, including Wisconsin’s voter ID and right-to-work laws. The governor’s power to appoint board members to the state’s economic development agency, which is overseeing the state’s $4 billion tax incentives deal with tech giant Foxconn, was scaled back as well.

The court ruled 4-3 in favor of the GOP on Friday, dismissing an argument that the session was called unconstitutionally.

The plaintiffs in the case, the League of Women Voters, argued the state constitution does not ascribe the power to call an extraordinary session of the legislature to lawmakers, thereby making the December session and all actions therein unconstitutional and invalid.

The court’s majority opinion, written by conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley, rejected that.

“The Wisconsin Constitution itself affords the legislature absolute discretion to determine the rules of its own proceedings,” Bradley wrote.

The court’s liberal justices offered a dissenting opinion, saying the majority “subverts the plain text of … the Wisconsin Constitution.”

“The Legislature’s ability to determine the rules of its proceedings pursuant to Article IV, Section 8 does not swallow up the meeting requirements of Article IV, Section 11 or allow it to wield unbridled power,” wrote Justice Rebecca Dallet.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has a 4-3 conservative majority. That will move to 5-2, when Justice-elect Brian Hagedorn is sworn in in January.

As the state court is the highest judicial power in Wisconsin, the lawsuit ends here.

Evers was quick to decry the decision Friday morning.

“Today’s decision is disappointing and, unfortunately, all too predictable,” Evers said. “It is based on a desired political outcome, not the plain meaning and text of the Constitution.”

Chris Carson, the president of the League of Women Voters of the United States, said the court’s action “undermines the will of Wisconsin voters.”

“The Wisconsin state Legislature’s actions defied the democratic process, which is a major blow to our democracy as a whole,” Carson said.

GOP leaders, meanwhile, defended their actions.

“The Court upheld a previously non-controversial legislative practice used by both parties for decades to enact some of the most important laws in the state,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. “This lawsuit, pursued by special interests and Governor Evers, has led to an unnecessary waste of taxpayer resources.”

One other state-level case challenging the lame-duck session remains before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The court has yet to hear arguments in that case, which argues the laws passed during the session violate the Wisconsin Constitution’s separation of powers guarantee by unfairly limiting the authority of the executive branch.

Two federal cases are also pending.

One of those relates to limits on early voting and changes to Wisconsin’s voter ID law passed during the lame-duck session. The other says the session violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee clause, which guarantees every state the right to a representative, republican form of government.

As those cases move forward, the vast majority of Wisconsin’s lame-duck laws have been allowed to go into effect.

The only exceptions are the limits on early voting, changes to some voter ID procedures and a requirement that state agencies allow a public comment period on some public guidance documents. Those elements remain blocked by courts.

Copyright 2019 Wisconsin Public Radio. To see more, visit Wisconsin Public Radio.

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