By Benjamin Yount for Watchdog.org
A judge in Madison says the Wisconsin legislature cannot just meet anytime it sees fit.
Judge Richard Niess ruled Thursday that Republican lawmakers violated the state’s constitution in December when they called an extraordinary session and approved a series of laws to cement the reforms of the past eight years.
“That the people’s liberty is imperiled by a Legislature that can meet at will any time, with little warning and even less of a published agenda, was a genuine threat on the minds of the people in 1848,” Niess wrote about the crafting of the state’s constitution.
He granted a number of liberal groups and labor unions a temporary injunction against the December reforms.
Republican leaders argued that they are allowed to set their own rules and schedules.
“The Legislature’s argument, if accepted, would swallow much of [the constitution] whole,” Niess said.
Democrats praised the decision while Republicans criticized it.
“This is a win for Wisconsin voters,” Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said in a statement. “The lame duck session was a bait and switch to rush through more partisan bills, rig elections and consolidate more power in the hands of Republican politicians.”
Gov. Tony Evers said the ruling is a “victory” for voters in Wisconsin.
“The Legislature overplayed its hand by using an unlawful process to accumulate more power for itself and override the will of the people, despite the outcome of last November’s election,” the governor said in a statement.
One of the laws that the ruling puts on hold banned Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul from withdrawing Wisconsin from the lawsuit that opposes Obamacare. Evers ordered the state be removed from that lawsuit immediately after Niess’ ruling.
Republican leaders at the statehouse said the ruling has the potential to create an all-out scramble in Madison for the next four years.
“Today’s ruling only creates chaos and will surely raise questions about items passed during previous extraordinary sessions, including stronger laws against child sexual predators and drunk drivers,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a joint-statement.
The temporary injunction also calls into question more than 80 last minute appointments that former Gov. Scott Walker signed in his final days in office.
Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for Watchdog.org.