State News

Controversy over Walker’s lame duck session persists in court

Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul win the power to act without legislative approval despite Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s success in appealing the injunction placed on lame duck session legislations.

Image By: Will Husted and Will Cioci

District 3 Court of Appeals ruled to keep in place some of the legislation enacted during last December’s extraordinary sessions despite two Dane County circuit judges granting injunctions to remove them. 

The lame duck session occurred under former Gov. Scott Walker’s administration just after he lost the election to Gov. Tony Evers. The bills passed weakened the governor and attorney general’s powers  –– both seats were Democratic upsets –– giving authority to the Republican-held legislature. 

Lawsuits against the constitutionality of Walker’s actions were filed quickly after the sessions concluded. Last Wednesday, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess temporarily ruled the bills illegal. 

“This is an important victory for the people of Wisconsin and our constitution. Today’s decision upholds our constitution’s separation of powers, which has guided this state since 1848,” Evers tweeted after Niess’s verdict.

Evers used this ruling to pull out of the joint-state lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, and remove 82 appointees who were nominated during the sessions. 

Despite this prompt action by the governor, Republican members of the legislature filed against the injunction through the court of appeals. After winning their case, some of the laws were reinstated Wednesday. 

Majority Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, released a joint statement after the decision, defending the legality of the extraordinary sessions.

"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,” Vos and Fitzgerald said. “A judge should not violate the Legislature's basic ability to convene when its duly elected members call a session day."

Regardless, Republicans were not able to gain back all of their power during the appeal due to the second Dane County judge, Frank Remington, who invalidated portions of the session’s bills in a separate lawsuit Tuesday.

These three rulings reinstated the 82 appointees who were removed by Evers. However, they also allowed for Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul to remove the state from lawsuits without first gaining legislative approval and the legislature will not be able to use its own attorneys over Kaul. 

It is likely Vos and Fitzgerald will attempt to appeal these Democratic victories in the future.

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