Court Overturns Decision to Block Lame Duck Session

Justice mural at the Wisconsin State Capitol (Will Kenneally/WSUM)

Author: Will Kenneally

A state appellate court has ruled that the actions taken during December’s state extraordinary legislative session can move forward for now.

Last year, Republican lawmakers convened a lame duck session and passed laws that took some powers away from the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general.

Wednesday’s ruling overturns a decision by a Dane County judge to temporarily block the session. The case stems from a lawsuit alleging the type of legislative sessionan extraordinary session which legislative leaders convene for specific issues (as opposed to a special session called by the governor)is not provisioned in the state constitution.

Republican lawmakers who appealed the Dane County decision, applauded today’s ruling. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly speaker Robin Vos issued a joint statement:

“Today, the rule of law has prevailed. independent judges have put a Dane County ruling on hold that was based on politics, not the law. A judge should not violate the Legislature’s basic ability to convene when its duly elected members call a session day.”

Democrats were critical of the ruling however. A spokeswoman for Gov. Tony Evers says that “we remain confident that the courts will ultimately undo the entire lame duck session overriding the will of the people.”

Included in the December session were 82 appointments put forward by former Gov. Scott Walker and approved by the senate. Evers withdrew the appointments last week under the initial Dane County ruling and their current status remains unclear.

His spokesperson says Evers’s withdrawal of the appointments still stands, but the decision by the appellate court to overturn the Dane County court’s injunction did not offer specifics on whether the appointees would need to be reinstated.

The second court case:

Though the appellate court’s decision allows the session to remain in effect, some laws from the session are still blocked under a second court case that received an initial ruling Tuesday.

A different Dane County judge temporarily blocked some provisions of the lame duck laws while hearing arguments on a lawsuit that alleges the lame duck laws violate constitutionally-mandated separations of powers. The judge’s ruling allows the attorney general to join or remove the state from lawsuits unilaterally, which would have required legislative approval under the lame duck laws.

Other parts of the laws, like those that give the legislature the ability to represent itself legally and oversight over how the state spends money received in legal settlements, are allowed to remain in effect. Republican lawmakers promise to appeal this second case as well.