MADISON, Wisc.—For the second time in a week, a Wisconsin judge has ruled that laws the Republican-dominated legislature passed in a lame-duck session last December to strip power from incoming Gov. Tony Evers should not be allowed to take effect.
Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington, ruling March 26 on a challenge to the laws filed by five labor unions, issued an injunction preventing several of them from going into effect on the grounds that they violated the state constitution’s separation-of-powers principles.
“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,” he wrote.
Remington said it was likely that the courts would find that measures that gave the legislature power to suspend administrative rules, require its approval for state agency publications, and prohibit the state attorney general from discontinuing or settling cases without its consent were unconstitutional. That last provision was intended to prevent incoming Attorney General Josh Kaul from pulling out of an effort to have the federal Affordable Care Act held unconstitutional.
“The Legislature has the power to change the responsibilities assigned to the Attorney General, but it may not castrate his/her ability to act as the lawyer for the State of Wisconsin nor can it constitutionally usurp the power of the executive branch,” Remington wrote.
The Legislature has the power to change the responsibilities assigned to the Attorney General, but it may not castrate his/her ability to act as the lawyer for the State of Wisconsin nor can it constitutionally usurp the power of the executive branch. — Dane County Circuit Judge FrankJudge Remington
The judge let stand laws that enable the Legislature to hire outside lawyers to challenge or defend state laws, pending the result of the trial in the five unions’ suit.
“This is a victory for democracy for the working people of Wisconsin,” SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin President Ramon Argandona said in a statement. “We filed this complaint to ensure that union members and working people who elected Gov. Tony Evers into office have their voices heard and have a fair shot at a decent future. We can’t move forward in Wisconsin when power grabs like this block progress.”
SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin is one of the plaintiffs, along with SEIU Local 1, the Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization, the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, and several individual SEIU members and leaders.
“Today’s ruling sends a strong message to politicians everywhere that when you lose an election, you can’t go back and change the rules to thwart the will of the voters,” said SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry. “This victory shows the power that working people have when they join together in a union.”
“All of the Legislature’s actions are consistent with the separation of powers that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has upheld for decades,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, both Republicans, said in a joint statement. “We will appeal this decision.”
The case is one of four lawsuits challenging the package of bills passed during the lame-duck session. On March 21, in a suit filed by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and several civil-rights and disability-rights groups, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess ruled that all the laws and appointments confirmed during the lame-duck session were invalid because “the Legislature did not lawfully meet.” In January, a federal judge struck down voter-identification laws and restrictions on early voting enacted during the session, saying that it “is not a close question” that they were racially discriminatory. Republican legislators have appealed both those decisions.
The fourth suit, filed in federal court in February by the state Democratic Party, argues that “a lame-duck Legislature and outgoing governor deprived the people of Wisconsin of their electoral choice,” and this violated the Constitution’s guarantee that every state has the right to a republican form of government.
“Former Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican legislature did everything they could to minimize the power of Gov. Tony Evers, and disrespect the voters’ rights,” Kenosha fast-food worker Solo Littlejohn, a Fight for $15 activist, said in a statement. “We believe our voices have been heard.”