MADISON, Wis. — The conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday upheld Republican-authored lame-duck laws that stripped power from the incoming Democratic attorney general just before he took office in 2019.
The court rejected arguments that the laws were unconstitutional, handing another win to Republicans who have scored multiple high-profile victories before the conservative court in recent years.
The ruling marks the second time that the court has upheld the lame-duck laws passed in December 2018, just weeks before Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, both Democrats, took office. The actions in Wisconsin mirrored Republican moves after losing control of the governor’s offices in Michigan in November 2018 and in North Carolina in 2016. Democrats decried the tactics as brazen attempts to hold onto power after losing elections.
The Wisconsin laws curtailed powers of both the governor and attorney general, but the case ruled on Thursday dealt primarily with powers taken away from Kaul. The Supreme Court previously rejected a lawsuit that challenged the legality of the lame duck session itself.
Thursday’s ruling involved a case filed by a coalition of labor unions led by the State Employees International Union. The coalition argued that the laws give the Legislature power over the attorney general’s office, a violation of the separation of powers doctrine in the state constitution. The doctrine grants each branch of government core powers: the Legislature writes laws, the executive branch enforces them and the judicial branch interprets them.
Reaction to the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision
Gov. Tony Evers
“We had a race for governor in 2018. I won. Unfortunately, things got off on the wrong foot because Republicans immediately passed a law overriding the will of the people and the election, and they’ve been sour grapes ever since.
“From the lame duck laws and challenging my veto power, to Safer at Home and holding an unsafe election this past April, clearly Republicans are going to continue working against me every chance they get, regardless of the consequences. But I'm not going to let that stop me from continuing to do what I promised I would when I ran for this office—I am going to keep putting people first and doing what's best for the people of our state.”
State Sen. Chris Larson
"Today, consistent with its recent pattern of stripping power away from our duly-elected Governor, the lame-duck Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the vast majority of the 2018 “Lame Duck” laws, passed by the heavily-gerrymandered and Republican-controlled legislature, along with ousted Governor Walker in a brazen attempt to nullify the 2018 election. In that election, Wisconsin voters chose Democrats to represent them in all five constitutional offices. This decision strips significant powers away from two of them: Governor Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul.
"For a party that constantly claims to be against “activist judges,” Republicans seem to have no problem using them to bend the law to legitimize their continued assault on the will of the people of Wisconsin. Voters elected Jill Karofsky to serve on the Supreme Court by a resounding margin this April. True to form, lame-duck Justice Daniel Kelly, who the people never elected, sided with Republicans in handing even more power to the legislature, just weeks before his term was set to expire at the end of July.
"While not unexpected, today’s decision is a stark reminder of the importance of elections and fighting against this rigged system. It is a further example of the depths to which Trump Republicans are willing to sink in order to consolidate their own power."