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Wisconsin Supreme Court Won’t Hear Immediate Appeal Of Voter Purge Ruling

Justices Split 3-3 On Whether To Hear Case Immediately

Wisconsin Supreme Court
Photo Phiend (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Wisconsin Supreme Court won’t hear an expedited appeal of a ruling that could purge more than 200,000 names from Wisconsin’s voter registration list, leaving the case in the hands of a lower appeals court for now.

The court split 3-3 Monday on whether to take the case immediately, with newly elected conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn joining the court’s liberals in voting to deny the petition. Fellow conservative Justice Daniel Kelly, who is up for election in April, declined to hear the case.

The rest of the court’s conservative majority wanted to immediately hear the case, which was brought by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, or WILL. In a dissent, conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote the court had “shirk(ed) its institutional responsibilities” to the voters who elected them.

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“The court’s decision to take a pass on this case irreparably denies the citizens of Wisconsin a timely resolution of issues that impact voter rights and the integrity of our elections,” Bradley wrote. “The court disregards its duty to decide significant issues of statewide importance.”

Fellow conservative Justices Patience Roggensack and Annette Ziegler joined Bradley’s dissent. Hagedorn and liberal Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Rebecca Dallet did not write an extended opinion explaining their votes.

The order came on the same day that Ozaukee County Judge Paul Malloy found Democratic members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission in contempt of court for not following his Dec. 13 order to purge the state’s voter list.

Malloy fined Democratic commissioners Ann Jacobs, Mark Thomsen and Julie Glancey $250 per day for violating the order. He also fined the Elections Commission $50 per day.

Democratic commissioners had argued on multiple occasions that it was premature to follow Malloy’s order since a higher court would ultimately decide the case.

At issue are more than 200,000 people who were flagged as having potentially moved by a multi-state system that compares registration data to records from other government agencies, like the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Elections Commission originally sent a piece of mail to those voters alerting them they had been flagged as having potentially moved. But under the state’s original plan, none of the names would be automatically purged until 2021.

WILL argued, and Malloy agreed, that state law did not give the Elections Commission discretion to wait on purging its voter list.

Wisconsin’s Department of Justice, led by Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, appealed Malloy’s ruling to the District 4 Court of Appeals, which is based in Madison. Soon after, WILL appealed directly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Many expected the Supreme Court to rule in WILL’s favor given its 5-2 conservative split, which made Monday’s ruling a surprise. Still, the ruling doesn’t mean the court won’t hear the case eventually, only that it won’t hear it right now.

The Elections Commission is scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss the voter purge case and all of its tangents.

In addition to the original lawsuit filed in state court, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block voters from being immediately dropped from the registration rolls.