Wisconsin judge temporarily strikes down laws limiting governor’s power
Photo Credit: Carrie Thompson

Wisconsin judge temporarily strikes down laws limiting governor’s power

A Wisconsin state judge on Thursday granted a temporary injunction on laws passed during a special session of the legislature last December that sought to limit powers of the state’s incoming governor. State Circuit Court Judge Richard Niess issued the injunction by concluding that the special session of the legislature was unlawful and therefore void.

By law, the Wisconsin legislature can meet in an “extraordinary session” if it is convened as a special session by the Governor. Only two committees of the Republican legislature called for the special session to be held in December 2018. During that time, they adopted three bills limiting the incoming Democratic Governor’s power and confirmed 82 nominees for state boards and councils.

The plaintiffs include the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Disability Rights Wisconsin and Black Leaders Organizing for Communities. They sought to bar future application of these bills and to vacate the positions held by the nominees.

The legislature motioned to dismiss the suit due to standing, but the current Governor, Tony Evers, has adopted the position of the plaintiffs and has standing by statute to protect the interests of the state.

Niess cited the intent behind restricting special meetings of the legislature in his decision. The colonists of Wisconsin sought to avoid the irregular sessions and corruption that were occurring before statehood. The state constitution limited these sessions to allow the people to attend legislative sessions and be heard.

The session in December 2018 was neither provided for by statute nor called for by the Governor, which would have legitimized the meeting.  Though these special meetings were commonly called for in this way, they are still not constitutional. Niess cited the late US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia saying, “the historical practice of the political branches is, of course, irrelevant when the Constitution is clear.”

The injunction seeks to go back to the time before this “extraordinary session” of the legislature. Niess prohibited enforcement of the three bills and temporarily vacated the 82 appointments made during the special session.

Governor Evers stated in a tweet, “today’s ruling is a victory for the people of Wisconsin and for preserving the Wisconsin Constitution.”