Shortly after Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers’ victory in November — part of a Democratic sweep of the state’s top five posts — the GOP-controlled legislature approved a bill that would strip power from the progressive incoming governor and attorney general. It was swiftly signed into law by ousted Republican Governor Scott Walker. Among other things, it blocked Evers’ ability to make administrative changes to state laws and to withdraw the state from a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. At the time, Republicans said they were simply restoring a balance of power, but that line rang hollow, what with the legislation being hastily pushed through in a lame-duck session after a decade of unified Republican control of Wisconsin’s government.
On Thursday, Wisconsin Public Radio reports, Judge Richard Niess issued a temporary injunction, based on his ruling that the lame-duck session was illegal, as it was not authorized according to rules in the state’s constitution. “There can be no justification for enforcement of the unconstitutional legislative actions emanating from the December 2018 ‘Extraordinary Session’ that is consistent with the rule of law,” Niess wrote. The Dane County judge also temporarily vacated 82 appointments Walker made during the lame-duck session.
The suit — one of four challenging the legislative actions that took place in December — is now expected to head to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, where the conservative majority could still overturn it. (One of the suits, filed over the GOP’s effort to limit early voting in the same lame-duck session, was blocked by a federal judge in January.)
The tactic is becoming popular with the GOP, which has dominated state-level politics since undertaking a concerted, national effort to win control of statehouses almost a decade ago. The North Carolina General Assembly moved to limit Democrat Roy Cooper’s power two years ago. And an effort to strip power from the incoming governor of Michigan took place in December, but unlike in Wisconsin, the outgoing governor vetoed the bill.
Evers, who campaigned on a promise to withdraw Wisconsin from a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, celebrated the news by immediately calling on the Wisconsin Department of Justice to remove the state from the group of plaintiffs in the suit, Texas v. United States.
“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,” Evers said. “I look forward to putting this disappointing chapter behind us so we can move forward together to put the needs of the people of Wisconsin first.”