Wisconsin Supreme Court affirms constitutionality of December 2018 legislative session
The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4-3 Friday that the legislature’s December 2018 extraordinary session did not violate the state constitution. That decision overturned a March 2019 state circuit court ruling that had blocked the actions taken during the session, including the confirmation of 82 appointees made by outgoing Gov. Scott Walker (R). The case resulted from a lawsuit filed by a group of plaintiffs, including the League of Women Voters.
Although state Supreme Court elections in Wisconsin are nonpartisan, liberal and conservative groups typically coalesce around specific candidates. The four justices who joined the majority opinion were originally appointed by a Republican governor or have been supported by conservative groups. The three justices who dissented have been supported by liberal groups.
In November 2018, Tony Evers (D) defeated Walker, 49.5% to 48.4%, resulting in divided government in Wisconsin when Evers was inaugurated in January 2019. Republicans have controlled both chambers of the legislature since 2013.
Evers renominated 67 of the 82 appointments made by Walker that were confirmed by the legislature during the special session. Evers did not reappoint 15 appointees. The state Supreme Court had ruled April 30 that those 15 appointees could continue in their positions pending the resolution of the legality of the extraordinary session.
The legislature also passed three bills during the extraordinary session that were signed into law by then Gov. Walker. According to a summary published by Jurist.org, the legislation::
requires “the governor to request permission from lawmakers before creating certain administrative rules and making changes to programs managed jointly by the state and federal governments.”
requires that the attorney general obtain legislative approval prior to the state’s withdrawing from a lawsuit.
limits in-person absentee voting to 14 days before an election and makes other changes to in-person absentee voting
Judge Rebecca Bradley, in her majority opinion, stated, “The extraordinary session comports with the constitution because it occurred as provided by law. The terminology the Legislature chooses to accomplish the legislative process is squarely the prerogative of the Legislature. The Wisconsin Constitution itself affords the Legislature absolute discretion to determine the rules of its own proceedings.”
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Rebecca Dallet wrote, “The plain constitutional text of Article IV, Section 11 makes clear that with the exception of the Governor’s ability to call special sessions, the Legislature has authority to “meet” only at “such time as shall be provided by law.” Yet, the majority opinion ignores this clear language and instead concludes that a joint resolution work schedule is “law” that allows for a continuous, perpetual legislative session and the ability to convene at any time without notice.”
Earlier this year I wrote several times in the Brew about the significance of Wisconsin’s April 2 election for a seat on the state supreme court.
Brian Hagedorn defeated Lisa Neubauer 50.2% to 49.8% in the race to replace Shirley Abrahamson, who had served on the court since 1976. Hagedorn was supported by conservatives and Neubauer—like Abrahamson—was backed by liberals. Hagedorn’s term on the court begins August 1.