Judge Declares Wisconsin GOP's Lame Duck Power Grab Illegal, Tacky As Hell
Last fall, after Wisconsin voters rejected Gov. Scott Walker's reelection bid and chose Democrat Tony Evers instead, Republicans in the state legislature got very busy doing anything they could to limit the power of the incoming governor and the new Democratic attorney general, Josh Kaul. Hey, voters may have chosen Evers, but that didn't mean Rs had to let Democrats actually govern, now did it? As Republican state House Speaker Robin Vos rather notoriously said at the time, the lege had to act because "We are going to have a very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in." So in a two day "extraordinary session," the Republicans shifted power from the executive branch and gave those powers to the legislature, which conveniently remained in Republican control thanks to gerrymandering. Scott Walker signed the bills and then began his career as an idiot on Twitter.
Yesterday, a Wisconsin judge found the entire lame duck session violated the state constitution, and invalidated the laws it passed. Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess said in his decision the Wisconsin constitution is quite specific about when the legislature can meet, and nope, the "extraordinary session" didn't meet the constitutional requirements, so sorry guys, you didn't follow the rules and your laws ARE MOOT.
The Associated Press lawsplains the constitutional neener-neener:
Lawmakers passed the lame-duck laws during a December extraordinary session, which is a previously unscheduled floor period initiated by majority party leaders. A coalition of groups headlined by the League of Women Voters sued in January, arguing the Legislature can't meet that way.
The groups contend the Wisconsin Constitution allows lawmakers to convene only at times laid out in a law they pass at the beginning of each two-year session or at the governor's call.
Republicans are of course very upset, insisting this pipsqueak county judge's tyranny shall not stand, man, and promise to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court, which not incidentally has a 3-4 conservative majority. Even so, the Wisconsin Constitution, as cited by Judge Niess, seems pretty definitive about when the lege can meet outside its scheduled sessions: Special sessions have to be called by the governor, and Scott Walker definitely did not call the December 2018 session. Sounds like a slam dunk for Niess to us.
One measure passed in the lame duck session prevented the governor and attorney general from withdrawing the state from any ongoing lawsuit without permission from the lege. That was an explicit attempt to block Evers from a campaign promise to end Wisconsin's participation in that multi-state lawsuit aimed at overturning Obamacare. Welp, once Neiss issued his ruling, Evers wasted no time at all doing what he ran on:
Less than two hours after Niess blocked the laws Evers ordered Kaul to pull out of the lawsuit. Kaul had filed motions to withdraw by early Thursday afternoon. The governor told reporters he needs time to "digest" the ruling before taking other action.
In addition to tossing out that law, Neiss's decision invalidates several other limits on the executive, including a measure allowing the legislature to intervene in legal actions all on its own and to hire its own private attorneys instead of using attorneys from the AG's office. As it happens, the lege used that very authority to hire a private attorney, Misha Tseytlin, to defend their lame duck laws against several lawsuits, including this one. So hurrah to Wisconsin Dems for following up the court's decision with this ballsy move:
Democratic legislative leaders sent a letter to their Republican counterparts asking them to stop paying any attorneys hired under the lame-duck authority, including Tseytlin. The Legislature is paying him $500 an hour to defend the laws.
The Rs also limited the ability of municipalities to set their own early voting hours, instead limiting early voting to the two weeks prior to a general election. That particular lame-duck provision was already placed on hold in January during a separate federal lawsuit brought by a voting rights group.
Beyond all the democracy-negating laws -- which were just fine, because it's not a democracy, it's a republic! -- the lame duck session also confirmed 82 appointments by then-Gov. Walker, so Evers wouldn't have the chance to appoint his own choices. Those confirmations were all thrown out by Neiss's order as well.
All in all, a pretty good day for the rule of law if you ask us! Although golly, the Rs are VERY CONCERNED that invalidating laws passed illegally could lead to lawsuits challenging other legislation passed during previous "extraordinary sessions," which Tseytlin argued could create a "rolling disaster" for the state. Judge Neiss wasn't particularly moved by the claim that an illegal special session had to stand in order to protect other illegal special sessions.
Niess wrote in his order that he can't uphold the lame-duck session and remain true to the state constitution. The judge denied Tseytlin's request for a stay and called the lawyer's warning that an injunction would create legal chaos an "alarmist domino-theory."
And now the whole mess moves on to the appeals process. Here's a crazy idea for Republicans: How about free and fair elections, and not trying to rig the system?
In a completely coincidental bit of timing, Scott Walker announced yesterday he'd taken a job with the National Republican Redistricting Trust, an outfit aimed at preserving Republican-drawn gerrymanders. He warned that Eric Holder and the evil Democrats' efforts to unfuck all the Republican gerrymandering is a really a secret plot to make Nancy Pelosi dictator of FOREVER. Walker, you may recall, was sued by Holder's group last year over yet another attempt to subvert voters.
"Republicans win if we have fair maps"? Dude, you misspelled "when we draw the maps."
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.