Lawsuit Challenges Wisconsin Lame-Duck Laws

MADISON, Wis. (CN) – Two advocacy groups and an organization working on behalf of people with disabilities filed a lawsuit Thursday over the new Wisconsin statutes coming out of December’s lame-duck legislative session.

The lawsuit, filed by The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Disability Rights Wisconsin and Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, asks a Dane County judge to void the new laws, claiming that the GOP-organized lame-duck session overextended the powers of the legislature and violated the Wisconsin Constitution.

“The lawsuit seeks to uphold the Wisconsin Constitution,” Jeffrey Mandell, representing the plaintiffs, said in an email.

“The plaintiffs have alleged diverse harms from the various bills…but they all agree that the proper remedy for the Legislature’s unconstitutional action is for the court to uphold the plain text of the constitution and to prevent enforcement of the legislative actions taken during the December 2018 Extraordinary Session,” Mandell continued.

According to the 30-page complaint, “The Legislature lacked legal authority to convene the December 2018 Extraordinary Session.”

“Neither the Wisconsin Constitution nor any statute authorizes the Legislature, let alone a small subset of each chamber acting at the direction of its respective Organizing Committee, to convene itself in an ‘extraordinary session,’” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit says the Wisconsin Constitution authorizes the Legislature to meet in only two circumstances:  “‘at such time as shall be provided by law’ and when ‘convened by the governor in a special session.’”

The advocacy groups argue December’s lame-duck session falls under neither category.

Defendants named in the lawsuit include Wisconsin Elections Commission officials and Governor Tony Evers.

Within the three bills that former Governor Scott Walker signed less than two weeks after Republican legislators called the lame-duck session, limitations on early voting drew special ire.

The changes to early and absentee voting “limit the opportunities for voter participation in Wisconsin elections, thereby harming Wisconsin voters who would otherwise have broader opportunities to participate in elections,” the complaint says.

“These laws place restrictions on voting that will impact the ability of voters with disabilities to participate in the state’s spring elections,” Disability Rights Wisconsin said in a statement.

Three Wisconsin taxpayers also signed onto the lawsuit as plaintiffs.

Guillermo Aceves, who works as a heavy machinery operator for Arbor Green, Inc. – a woman-owned business certified by the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise – calls out the limitations the new bills impose on transportation projects.

“As a result of the funding limitations in Section 17,” the complaint states, “fewer Wisconsin DOT projects will be eligible to participate in the DBE [Disadvantaged Business Enterprise] program, resulting in fewer contract opportunities for Arbor Green, and by extension, work opportunities for Mr. Aceves.”

John Greene, who served as an attorney with the Wisconsin Department of Justice for over 25 years, says the bills requiring the attorney general to consult with the Legislature before settling any lawsuits involving the state of Wisconsin will affect him and others.

The provision “will impede and delay settlements by the Attorney General,” and Greene “anticipates that this provision will result in injury and pecuniary loss to him, as a taxpayer, due to the increased costs associated with decreasing the incidence of settlement and increasing costs to the State.”

The complaint requests an injunction “barring any State official from attempting to apply, implement, or enforce any actions taken by the Legislature” during the lame-duck session.

It also asks the court to void the 82 nominees to state authorities and offices that took place during the lame-duck session.

Representatives with the Wisconsin Elections Commission declined a request for comment, and Governor Evers’ office could not be reached Thursday afternoon.

Mandell is with the Madison-based firm Stafford Rosenbaum. State Circuit Judge Stephen Ehlke will preside over the case.  

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