Democrats in Wisconsin are carefully considering legal options after an extraordinary lame-duck session produced a flurry of GOP-led legislation Tuesday night aimed at diminishing the power of the state’s incoming Democratic governor.
If outgoing Republican Gov. Scott Walker signs the measures, expect immediate court action.
The measures range from efforts to reduce early voting days to restrict the governor’s influence over a powerful government agency that Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers promised to disband. Other pieces are aimed at insisting on legislative backing for certain decisions traditionally made by the attorney general.
Incoming Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul, for example, had suggested the state would pull out of the ongoing lawsuit against Obamacare.
At a press event in Wisconsin Kaul said the legislature’s actions are “virtually certain to end up in litigation” and predicted that it would end up as multiple litigation” in “multiple courts.”
Barry C. Burden, a professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin -Madison says that the session was so unprecedented that political scientists are still examining the details of what was passed, but some of the threatened measures that would have certainly spurred legal challenges were removed before passage.
Those include one aimed at changing the date of the presidential primary and a proposal to remove the attorney general from state lawsuits where he would be a party and replace him with a private attorney of the legislature’s choosing.
“There are likely to be legal challenges, especially to the change in early voting laws,” Burden said but he noted that “other provisions may become law without any significant challenges because at least some of them are reversing policies that were put in place while Governor Walker was in office.”
Burden said that the Governor of Wisconsin has a powerful veto power including the ability to strike line items and even words. Walker has indicated a general willingness to sign but it is not clear what he will ultimately approve.
“Some of this is simply a policy debate,” Burden said, “some is reverting back to a prior relationship between the Governor and state legislature.”
Perkins Coie lawyer Marc Elias, who is one of the top Democratic election lawyers in the country, said the GOP legislature is trying to “hamstring democracy,” and suggestion action on voting rights issues.
“We sued Wisconsin over their ID law in 2016,” Elias tweeted. “We sued again when Wisconsin failed to hold special elections. If the GOP thinks they can disenfranchise voters by cutting early voting without a fight, they are wrong,” he said.
The threats have not stopped Republicans. State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald issued a statement after the late night/early morning session.
“Today’s extraordinary sessions codifies into law reforms that have been eight years in the making,” he said.
“Laws written by the legislature and passed by a governor should not be erased based on political maneuvering of an incoming administration,” he said.