The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday rejected Gov. Tony Evers’ and the League of Women Voters' challenge to laws passed during the 2018 Extraordinary Legislative Session.
The court, in its 4-3 decision, ordered that all laws passed in December must be upheld. Many of those laws diminished the authority of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who defeated Republican incumbent Scott Walker in December.
The plaintiffs argued that the legislature wasn’t lawfully convened under the state's Constitution, making the laws it passed invalid. The state’s high court disagreed.
The Legislature did follow the Constitution, the court ruled, which "affords the Legislature absolute discretion to determine the rules of its own proceedings."
The Legislature has convened under extraordinary sessions over the past 40 years, which can be called by lawmakers without the governor's approval.
“Today’s decision reaffirms that the legislature has the ability to manage its own operations,” WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg told The Center Square. ”Extraordinary sessions have been going on for years pursuant to both statute and an explicit legislative rule. No one was fooled by them.
“They happened with notice and in plain sight,” Esenberg added. “To say they were secretly unconstitutional would have violated the text of the Constitution and caused chaos, calling into question many laws that have been passed over almost four decades. It is good to see the Supreme Court adhere to the Constitution and avoid the confusion that the lower court decision would have created.”
Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote the majority opinion.
"The extraordinary session comports with the constitution because it occurred as provided by law," Bradley wrote. "The terminology the Legislature chooses to accomplish the legislative process is squarely the prerogative of the Legislature."
Justice Rebecca Dallet in her dissent wrote that the Constitution limits when lawmakers can meet, adding, "the majority opinion subverts" those provisions.
Evers said the court’s decision was "all too predictable," and "based on a desired political outcome, not the plain meaning and text of the constitution."
"The state constitution is clear," he said in a statement. "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."
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the lawsuit “has led to an unnecessary waste of taxpayer resources.”
The MacIver Institute agreed, stating, “This lawsuit, pursued by special interests and Gov. Evers has led to an unnecessary waste of taxpayer resources.” It urged the governor in a statement “to work with the Legislature instead of pursuing his political agenda through the courts.”
The laws passed during December's extra session were meant to curb the incoming Democratic governor's powers. They give the legislature more authority to intervene in lawsuits and approve court settlements, in approving changes to public employee benefits, blocks new rules put in place by the governor.
Friday’s ruling follows the court’s previous decision in April in which it upheld 82 appointments made by outgoing Gov. Scott Walker, which Evers had rescinded. The Supreme Court affirmed that April decision on Friday.
“It is further ordered that the 82 nominees/appointees are hereby restored, as of the date of this order, to the positions they were appointed, and they may exercise all of the rights and duties of those positions as they did prior to the Dane County circuit court’s March 21, 2019 injunction and order, pending this court’s final decision in this case,” the Supreme Court stated in April. “The letter of March 22, 2019 from Governor Evers to Jeff Renk, Chief Clerk of the Wisconsin Senate, was of no legal effect and will remain so for the duration of this appeal.”
The Supreme Court ruled it has the “last word” on the matter.