Thursday, July 9, 2020

Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds most lame-duck laws curbing powers of Tony Evers, Josh Kaul

From The Journal

Capital Times archives

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday delivered a partial defeat to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul by upholding most parts of the laws Republican lawmakers passed in late 2018 to curb their power.

But in another substantial move, the court struck down a provision of the laws creating more stringent rules for how state agencies develop guidance documents, documents that tell individuals or organizations how to comply with state law. That portion of the ruling was a win for Evers, and determined that the Legislature overstepped the bounds provided by the separation of powers.

Thursday's decision, delivered in rulings receiving split support from the seven justices, largely gives a nod — for now, at least — to the Republican Legislature exercising greater authority over the executive branch, currently controlled by Democrats. It's a move some legal experts said will make Wisconsin an outlier in how it treats the separation of powers. The case, brought by the Service Employees International Union and others, contended the laws violate the state constitution's separation-of-powers doctrine. The court heard oral arguments in the case in October.

The 5-2 conservative court issued a unanimous decision, authored by conservative-backed Justice Brian Hagedorn, upholding parts of the Republican-authored laws that allow the Legislature more say in Capitol security matters; and guaranteeing the Legislature can intervene in many cases using its own attorneys rather than those from the state Department of Justice.

But the court's two liberals, Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Rebecca Dallet, dissented from the majority's decision to uphold parts of the laws giving the Legislature more oversight authority over the Department of Justice in the settlement of cases. The laws require Kaul to get permission from a GOP-controlled legislative committee to settle lawsuits, a process which has delayed the settlement of cases that could net the state millions of dollars.

The court issued a 4-3 ruling on guidance documents, with outgoing conservative-backed Justice Daniel Kelly authoring the opinion, with conservative-backed Justice Rebecca Bradley and the courts two liberal-supported members, Ann Walsh Bradley and Dallet, joining. Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, supported by conservatives, issued a separate opinion agreeing with some parts and dissenting with other portions of Kelly's opinion. Hagedorn issued a separate opinion dissenting in part and concurring in part that conservative-backed Justice Annette Ziegler joined.

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