Elisabeth Moore

Elisabeth Moore is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at

Wisconsin Supreme Court rules legislature’s lame-duck session was constitutional

In a 4-3 decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Friday that the state legislature’s December 2018 lame duck session was not unconstitutional. The League of Women Voters, plaintiffs in the case, had argued that the state’s constitution did not allow lawmakers to call an extraordinary session, making the December session and all actions resulting from it unconstitutional.
Judge Jessica Bradley authored the court’s majority opinion, stating: “We hold that extraordinary sessions do not violate the Wisconsin Constitution because the text of our constitution directs the Legislature to meet at times as ‘provided by law,’ and Wis. Stat. § 13.02(3) provides the law giving the Legislature the discretion to construct its work schedule, including preserving times for it to meet in an extraordinary session.”
Judge Rebecca Dallet wrote a dissenting opinion: “The Legislature’s ability to determine the rules of its proceedings pursuant to Article IV, Section 8 does not swallow up the meeting requirements of Article IV, Section 11 or allow it to wield unbridled power.”
During the December 2018 session, Wisconsin lawmakers voted to limit the ability of the governor to remove Wisconsin from a multi-state lawsuit to challenge the Affordable Care Act, limit early voting in Wisconsin, and give more power over the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to state lawmakers.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) responded to the ruling: “The state constitution is clear. It limits when the legislature can meet to pass laws. Our framers knew that no good comes from lawmakers rushing laws through at the last minute without public scrutiny. The lame-duck session proves the framers were right. This was an attack on the will of the people, our democracy, and our system of government.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald called the decision “common sense.” “The Court upheld a previously non-controversial legislative practice used by both parties for decades to enact some of the most important laws in the state,” they wrote.

Trump picks Melania’s spokeswoman for new press secretary

Donald Trump chose Melania Trump spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham to serve as his White House press secretary Tuesday. Grisham will replace Sarah Huckabee Sanders, whose last day will be Friday.
The First Lady said in a tweet: “I am pleased to announce @StephGrisham45 will be the next @PressSec & Comms Director! She has been with us since 2015 – @potus & I can think of no better person to serve the Administration & our country. Excited to have Stephanie working for both sides of the @WhiteHouse.”
Grisham is Melania Trump’s deputy chief of staff for communications and will continue to serve in that role when she becomes press secretary. She was a member of Trump’s presidential transition team and worked on former presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign.

Acting Texas Secretary of State David Whitley (R) resigns

Acting Texas Secretary of State David Whitley (R) resigned May 27 just before the end of the Texas legislative session. Whitley was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on December 17, 2018, but needed to receive confirmation from two-thirds of the state Senate—21 out of 31 senators—to continue serving in a permanent capacity through 2021.
Whitley was supported by all 19 Republicans in the Senate, but all 12 Democrats announced their opposition to his confirmation earlier this year.
The secretary of state in Texas is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate, and Abbott will nominate Whitley’s replacement. The office of secretary of state exists in 47 states and is directly elected in 35 of them. Texas is one of nine states where the governor appoints the secretary of state; in three states, he or she is appointed by the state legislature. In 37 states, the secretary of state is the chief elections officer with ultimate oversight over state elections and voter registration.
Whitley thanked Abbott in his resignation letter, writing, “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve Texas. Working alongside the employees in the secretary of state’s office, county election officials, and representatives of our #1 trading partner, Mexico, has been my distinct honor and privilege.

Iowa state representative changes party affiliation to Democratic, cites Trump and Republican Party direction

Iowa State Representative Andy McKean changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democratic on Tuesday.
McKean said President Trump and changes in the party as a whole prompted this change. “I feel, as a Republican, that I need to be able to support the standard bearer of our party…Unfortunately, that’s something I’m unable to do,” McKean said in a news conference. He added that “the [Republican] party has veered very sharply to the right.” The Des Moines Register stated McKean had been the longest-serving Republican in the state House.
House Minority Leader Todd Prichard (D) commented on McKean’s move: “We’re pleased to have Andy’s experience and ideas as part of our discussion when we go to caucus.”
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer (R) said, “This will not distract us from moving forward with the conservative agenda that Iowans have tasked us with…As a majority of 53 strong Republicans, we are committed to completing our work and wrapping up the session.”
As of April 2019, Ballotpedia tracked 122 state legislators who have switched parties since 1994. Seventy-one lawmakers changed from Democrat to Republican, and 19 lawmakers switched from Republican to Democrat.
McKean’s switch did not change the Republican majority in the state House; the partisan balance is now 53-47. In 2016, Republicans gained a Republican trifecta in the state, meaning they hold the governor’s office and have majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.

Ohio governor signs bill prohibiting abortion after fetal heartbeat is detected

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signed a bill into law on April 11 which bans abortions after a doctor is able to detect a fetal heartbeat-usually at about six weeks into a pregnancy. The law includes exceptions if the life of the woman is at risk, but not in cases of incest or rape. It also mandates jail time and a $20,000 fine from the State Medical Board of Ohio for physicians who violate the law.
As of March 2019, a total of 43 states prohibited abortions beginning at specific stages of pregnancy. Of these 43 states, 17 prohibited abortions beginning at the stage of fetal viability, defined in _Roe v. Wade_ as the point at which a fetus is “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid.” Fourteen states prohibited abortions beginning at 20 weeks post-fertilization.

Former Arizona Sen. Steve Pierce chosen to fill Arizona House vacancy

The Yavapai County Board of Supervisors chose former Arizona Sen. Steve Pierce (R) on April 3 to replace Rep. David Stringer (R) in the Arizona House of Representatives. Stringer resigned on March 27 amid an ethics investigation.
Prior to being chosen for Stringer’s seat, Pierce served in the Arizona State Senate from 2009 to 2017. He also previously served as the chairman for the Yavapai County Republican Party.
The Arizona House of Representatives currently has a 31-29 Republican majority, which was unchanged with Pierce’s appointment. Republicans also hold trifecta status in Arizona, meaning the party holds the governor’s office as well as a majority in both chambers of the state legislature.
If there is a vacancy in the Arizona State Legislature, the board of county supervisors must select a replacement. The political party committee is involved in the appointment process only if the legislative district has 30 or more elected precinct committeemen.

March 2019 SCOTUS update

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) released five rulings on cases that were argued in October 2018 and January 2019.
SCOTUS has heard four cases this month as of March 22. It is scheduled to hear five more by the end of the month and a total of 12 cases in its April sitting.
In the court’s current term, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has issued the most majority opinions so far (4). Justices Elena Kagan and Samuel Alito have issued the least (1 each).

An analysis of legislation in the 115th Congress

The 116th Congress is more than two months old. Here’s a look back at the 115th Congress.
The 115th Congress ran from January 3, 2017, to January 3, 2019. The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House both began with a Republican majority. Following the November 2018 election, the Senate retained its Republican majority and the House gained a Democratic majority.
Members of the 115th United States Congress introduced 13,556 pieces of legislation, and 867 of those received a vote. Seven hundred fifty-eight (6 percent) of those bills passed, and 443 (3 percent) of those went on to be signed into law. In the 114th Congress, 708 bills were passed and 329 were signed into law, and in the 113th Congress, 663 bills were passed and 296 were signed.
Ballotpedia categorized 79 of the Congress’ votes as key votes.
Click the link below to learn more.