Second Wisconsin Judge Rules Against Lame-Duck Laws

MADISON, Wis. (CN) – Delivering another blow to the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Legislature, a second state judge issued a ruling Tuesday blocking some sections of the lame-duck laws passed during December’s controversial extraordinary floor session.

Opponents of extraordinary session bills submitted by Wisconsin Republican legislators hold “Stop Lame Duck” signs at a rally outside the state capitol on Dec. 3, 2018. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

Referring to Wisconsin as a great ship and the state constitution as its keel, Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington’s 49-page order states, “In December, 2018 the Legislature and then Governor Scott Walker upended the balance that this state has had for most all of its 171 years. The time has come to right this ship-of-state so Wisconsin can resume smooth sailing ahead.”

The sections of the laws Judge Remington enjoined are those that have to do with legislative approval for discontinuing or settling legal cases, the creation and treatment of guidance documents and agency publications, and suspension of administrative rules.

The provisions left in place by the order have to do with the Legislature’s right to intervention and new enterprise zones.

“The fact that this court is not issuing a preliminary injunction does not mean these sections are constitutional, but only that the plaintiffs have not presently met their initial burden,” Judge Remington wrote, before offering the plaintiffs leave to continue their challenge.

The lawsuit at issue was brought by local unions and is one of four ongoing legal challenges to the GOP-engineered extraordinary session and resulting lame-duck laws that limited the powers of new Democratic Governor Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul.

Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess entered a temporary injunction blocking the lame-duck laws in their entirety last Thursday in a different lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and others.

The laws at issue were passed during December’s all-night extraordinary floor session, which was called by a GOP coalition of the Legislature seeking to restrain several authorities of Evers and Kaul, who had just been elected the month before.

The unions’ lawsuit, for which the parties delivered arguments Monday, specifically challenged the constitutionality of the Legislature’s provisional right to intervene in executive branch functions like settling and litigating lawsuits and administering Medicaid, powers which the lame-duck bills gave to the Legislature once they were signed into law by outgoing Republican Governor Scott Walker.

Governor Evers celebrated Judge Remington’s ruling in a statement Tuesday.  

“For the second time in less than a week, an impartial judge ruled against legislative Republicans and their lame duck session,” the governor said. “This is an important victory for the people of Wisconsin and our constitution. Today’s decision upholds our constitution’s separation of powers, which has guided this state since 1848.”

Evers continued, “It is now abundantly clear that the lame duck session was nothing more than an illegal power grab intended to override the will of the people. It is time to move beyond this chapter and work together to build a Wisconsin that puts the people first.”

State Republicans, on the other hand, showed tempered optimism in light of the ruling.

In a joint statement, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said, “It’s encouraging to see the court ruling in our favor on elements of this case. However, all of the Legislature’s actions are consistent with the separation of powers that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has upheld for decades. We will appeal this decision.”

Judge Remington’s decision, which does not block the totality of the lame-duck laws like Judge Niess’ ruling last week, does not have any immediate effect pending the latter lawsuit’s appeal process, which is ongoing as of Tuesday afternoon.

That appeal is presided over by Deputy Chief Judge Lisa Stark in the state’s District 3 Court of Appeals in Wausau.

Adding to the confusing flurry of legal activity over the lame-duck laws is an ongoing federal lawsuit filed by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin in late February.

A federal judge in another case also threw out early-voting limits in the lame-duck legislation in January.

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