A look at lawsuits challenging Wisconsin’s lame-duck laws
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A coalition of five labor unions filed the third lawsuit Monday challenging new power-stripping measures Wisconsin Republicans approved before the new Democratic governor took office.
Here is a look at the latest legal challenge and the status of the other two:
HOW DID THE LAWS HURT DEMOCRATS?
The measures approved in a lame-duck session prohibit new Gov. Tony Evers from ordering Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul to withdraw from lawsuits, a move designed to block Evers from pulling Wisconsin out of a multistate lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act. Evers had campaigned on withdrawing the state from the case.
Kaul, meanwhile, must get permission from the Legislature’s budget-writing committee before he can settle lawsuits, and any money from settlements must go into the state’s general fund rather than the attorney general’s office. Lawmakers are now allowed to intervene in cases using their own attorneys. Those moves underscore that Republicans don’t trust Kaul to represent their views in court.
The measures also restricted early in-person voting to the two weeks preceding an election. In the past, municipalities could set their own hours; Madison and Milwaukee, both Democratic strongholds, held early voting for six weeks leading up to the last November’s elections.
Liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now challenged the early-voting restrictions in federal court in December. A coalition of liberal-leaning groups, including the League of Women Voters and Disability Rights Wisconsin, filed its own lawsuit in state court last month arguing the Legislature didn’t have the authority to convene because its regular session had ended months earlier.
Five unions filed a lawsuit Monday in state court arguing the new laws violate the separation of powers because they steal authority from the executive branch and shift it to the Legislature.
WHERE DO THINGS STAND IN COURT?
U.S. District Judge James Peterson made short work of the One Wisconsin Now challenge, striking down the early voting restrictions in mid-January. He said the limits mirror restrictions he blocked two years earlier. That decision is part of a larger OWN case challenging Republican-authored voting laws that’s currently under appeal at the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The League of Women Voters case is set for a telephone scheduling conference on Feb. 11.
The unions have asked for a temporary five-day restraining order preventing Evers, Kaul and Republican leaders from executing or enforcing sections of the lame-duck laws they’re challenging. No action has been scheduled in the case.
WHAT ARE THE CHANCES THE UNIONS CAN WIN?
Tough to say.
Howard Schweber, a political scientist who teaches constitutional law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, questioned whether the unions have standing to sue. The unions argue their members purchase health insurance through the ACA and Wisconsin’s participation in the ACA challenge would hurt them.
Schweber said he’s not sure a judge will buy that, saying that result would stem from a policy change rather than a violation of separation of powers.
The state Supreme Court has repeatedly drawn boundaries separating the three branches of government, Schweber said. Reducing Kaul’s authority could violate the separation of powers doctrine since the Legislature is trying to exercise direct control over someone in the executive branch, he said.
Donald Moynihan, a public policy professor at Georgetown University and a former director of the La Follette School of Public Affairs at UW-Madison, said lawmakers made Kaul subservient to the Legislature.
It’s murkier with Evers. If the authority Republicans stripped from him stems from statutes, they may well have been within their rights, Schweber said. If it originates with the Wisconsin Constitution, legislators lack the power to tweak that, he said.
WHAT ABOUT THE LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS’ CASE?
Things are a little clearer in this one. The Wisconsin Legislative Council issued a memo in early January are Republican legislative leaders’ request saying the Legislature governs its own proceedings and can convene whenever it chooses. Schweber said the memo is interesting but isn’t a legal authority.
SO WHERE IS ALL THIS HEADED?
Schweber predicted both cases will end up before the state Supreme Court. That court has said repeatedly that each branch of government has a core set of exclusive powers, he said.
The court is currently controlled by conservative-leaning justices and has taken criticism for appearing too partisan. If the justices or other courts rule in the Republican-controlled Legislature’s favor they could lose credibility with progressives, Moynihan said.
Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1