Appeals court won't reinstate Democrats' lame-duck challenge

MADISON — A federal appeals court panel refused Thursday to reinstate Wisconsin Democrats' lawsuit challenging Republican-authored lame-duck laws that curbed the powers of the Democratic governor and attorney general before they took office.

Republican legislators adopted laws in December 2018 designed to weaken Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul after they won election but before they took office. The state Democratic Party sued in February 2019, alleging the laws were designed to retaliate against people who voted for Evers and Kaul and degraded the value of their votes for them. U.S. District Judge James Peterson dismissed the lawsuit in October, ruling that the Democrats lacked the standing to sue.

A three-judge panel from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Peterson's decision. Judge Diane Wood wrote that the Democrats' arguments amount to an unprecedented interpretation of voting rights and that the U.S. Supreme Court had found that legislators' partisan intentions don't violate the Constitution. She added that the laws haven't harmed the state party's ability to raise funds, register voters or get candidates on ballots.

The laws prohibited Evers from re-nominating appointees who were already rejected once by the state Senate; gave legislators the ability to suspend state agencies' regulations multiple times; added legislative appointees to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation; prevented Evers from ordering Kaul to withdraw from lawsuits without legislative approval; and forced Kaul to obtain legislative permission before settling lawsuits.

The conservative-leaning Wisconsin Supreme Court has rejected two other challenges to the laws in state court, one from a coalition of labor unions and the other from liberal-leaning groups led by the League of Women Voters.