Wisconsin Judge Blocks Lame-Duck Laws That Stripped Democrats Of Power

The lame-duck laws drew national outcry as Republicans quickly moved to pass them before Democrats took office.

A Wisconsin judge temporarily blocked a set of laws Thursday that Republicans passed in a lame-duck session late last year that stripped Democratic lawmakers of their power.

The laws Republicans passed made cuts to early voting and limited the appointment power of the governor and the ability of the attorney general to withdraw from lawsuits. The laws drew national outcry as Republicans moved to quickly pass them after losing control of the attorney general’s office and the governor’s mansion.

A contingent of advocacy groups sued over the measures in January, saying the Legislature had not properly convened the session in which it passed the laws.

The Wisconsin Constitution says the state Legislature “shall meet at the seat of
government at such time as shall be provided by law, unless convened by the governor in special session.” Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that the December 2018 lame-duck session violated the consitutution because lawmakers didn’t pass a statute authorizing it and then Gov. Scott Walker (R) didn’t call for it.

“The bottom line in this case is that the Legislature did not lawfully meet during its December 2018 ‘Extraordinary Session,’” he wrote.

A federal court already blocked the cuts from early voting from going into effect.

In addition to blocking the laws, Thursday’s ruling also vacated 82 nominees and appointments Republicans made to various state agencies and boards during the lame-duck session. 

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) praised Thursday’s ruling.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the people of Wisconsin and for preserving 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,” he said in a statement.

Evers on Thursday also quickly acted on the ruling and requested that Wisconsin be removed from a multistate lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act.

State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) said they would appeal the ruling. They said it could vacate many laws passed in previous similar sessions. The legislative rule approving extraordinary sessions was passed in 1977 and there were 23 between 1980 and 2014

“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,” Vos and Fitzgerald said in a statement, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Niess was unpersuaded by that kind of reasoning. In his opinion, he wrote that the fact that something had been done previously did not make it constitutional. He added that his ruling would not call into question other laws and called the argument “alarmist.”

“The theory is unsupported by either law or facts in this record, is 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,” he wrote.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.