A split state Supreme Court today upheld the Legislature’s power to meet in extraordinary session and rejected a challenge to the actions Republicans took in December to undercut powers of the incoming Dem guv and AG.
In a 4-3 ruling, the court found the Legislature has the power to set its own work schedule and the judicial branch can’t overturn an action for perceived violations to the body’s rules.
A coalition of Dem groups challenged the extraordinary session actions, arguing Republicans had improperly convened to take the actions following former GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s November loss.
But the conservative majority concluded extraordinary sessions are constitutional “because the text of our constitution directs the Legislature to meet at times as ‘provided by law.'”
The court found the Legislature is the sole authority for its “self-imposed statutory or procedural rules” and is only accountable to the voters for failing to follow them.
“Provided the Legislature acts in accordance with its mandates, the constitution confers no power on the judiciary to enjoin or invalidate laws as a consequence for deficiencies in the implementation of internally-imposed legislative procedures,” conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote for the majority.
Today’s ruling vacated a Dane County decision that had overturned the Legislature’s actions, including the confirmation of 82 appointments. The justices ruled the “circuit court invaded the province of the Legislature in declaring the extraordinary session unconstitutional.” Today’s ruling sends the case back to circuit court to be dismissed.
Writing for the minority, Justice Rebecca Dallet argued the Wisconsin Constitution placed limits on when the Legislature can meet, and the December lame-duck session violated those provisions. She wrote the drafters sought to limit “where, when and how often” the Legislature can meet. She also argued the courts must step in when the Legislature violates the constitution.
“That is exactly what happened here: the Legislature violated the plain constitutional text, and this court must act as a check,” wrote Dallet, who was joined by fellow liberal Justices Shirley Abrahamson and Ann Walsh Bradley.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald in a statement praised the court’s “common sense” decision.
“The Court upheld a previously non-controversial legislative practice used by both parties for decades to enact some of the most important laws in the state,” they wrote.
Erin Grunze, executive director for the plaintiff League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, expressed disappointment in the court ruling in favor of the Legislature’s extraordinary session, which she said “undermined the Wisconsin Constitution’s limit on its power.”
Gov. Tony Evers called the decision “disappointing,” “predictable” and one “based on a desired political outcome, not the plain meaning and text of the constitution.”
“The state constitution is clear. It limits when the legislature can meet to pass laws,” Evers said. “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. This was an attack on the will of the people, our democracy, and our system of government.”
See the statements:
Read more on the case in the FRI AM Update.