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Appellate Court Sides With GOP, Restores Some Lame-Duck Laws

Overlapping Rulings Fuel Disagreement Over Status Of 82 Walker Appointees

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Wisconsin state capitol building
Wisconsin state Capitol. Bill Martens/WPR

A state appellate court has ruled in favor of the Republican-controlled state Legislature in an ongoing legal battle over December’s lame-duck session.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals on Wednesday granted a stay of last week’s ruling by a Dane County judge that threw out all of the laws passed and appointments made during the lame-duck session.

Republican legislative leaders were quick to herald the decision.

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“Independent judges have put a Dane County ruling on hold that was based on politics, not the law,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, in a prepared statement. “A judge should not violate the Legislature’s basic ability to convene when its duly elected members call a session day.”

The decision comes a day after another Dane County judge struck down some, but not all, of the laws passed during the lame-duck session.

The intersection of rulings means some of the lame-duck laws will go back on the books. Those include limits on the governor to change state work requirements for benefits like Medicaid and food stamps.

However, another law preventing the governor from withdrawing Wisconsin from a multi-state federal lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act remains on hold.

The Wednesday appellate ruling has the governor’s office and legislative leaders at loggerheads over its effect on 82 appointments to state boards.

After the first Dane County ruling, Gov. Tony Evers officially rescinded 82 appointments made by former Gov. Scott Walker that were confirmed during the lame-duck session. Evers was in the process of naming his own appointees when the appellate court issued its stay.

The governor’s office contends the positions remain vacant until he names new appointees, but Misha Tseytlin, the lawyer for Republican lawmakers in both lame-duck cases, argues otherwise.

“Those people have a statutory right to their jobs because they were duly confirmed by the Senate in December 2018,” Tseytlin said via email. “The Governor’s hasty, ill-advised actions last week cannot possibly impact those legal rights.”

In a statement released after the appellate ruling, the governor’s office said Evers remains confident the courts will ultimately undo the entire lame-duck session.

“Republicans created this chaos and have doubled down on defending their illegal attack on our Constitution instead of working with the governor to move forward,” said Melissa Baldauff, Evers’ spokeswoman.

Republican lawmakers have said they plan to appeal the second state lame-duck case to a higher court as well.

The state cases move forward as two federal cases on the lame-duck session also play out.

A federal district judge ruled on one of the federal lawsuits in January, striking down restrictions on early voting that were also included in the lame-duck agenda. That case is pending appeal.

The second federal suit, filed by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, argues the lame-duck laws violate the U.S. Constitution’s Guarantee Clause. That clause guarantees every state the right to a republican form of government. Arguments have yet to be heard in that case.

Editor’s note: This story was updated with original reporting from WPR.
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