GOP lawmakers ask appeals court to reverse ruling halting laws limiting powers of Tony Evers, Josh Kaul

March 22, 2019

A day after a judge halted GOP lame-duck laws curtailing powers of Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, Republican lawmakers asked a state appeals court to put the laws back in place.

In court documents filed Friday, Misha Tseytlin, an attorney for GOP lawmakers, signaled they will appeal the ruling. Tyestlin argued it “is already causing serious harm to our state” and could be used to undermine more than 300 other laws or resolutions enacted in the last four decades.

A flurry of other legal filings followed, as Evers’ attorneys and the state Department of Justice sought to weigh in on the case.

Thursday’s ruling by Dane County Circuit Court Judge Richard Niess temporarily blocked enforcement of the GOP lame-duck laws. It also vacated 82 appointments to state councils, boards and other bodies that Republicans made during the December lame-duck session, days before they relinquished total control of state government.

Niess’ ruling upholds a challenge to the legitimacy of the “extraordinary session” GOP lawmakers and former Gov. Scott Walker used to pass those laws.

Plaintiffs argued extraordinary sessions, in which lawmakers convene themselves into action outside of a regular session, are not sanctioned by law or the state constitution. The plaintiffs included the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Disability Rights Wisconsin and Black Leaders Organizing for Communities.

Now Republicans say the ruling, if upheld, could be used to undermine more than 300 laws or resolutions passed during extraordinary sessions since 1980.

Laws enacted in extraordinary sessions include the so-called “right-to-work” law, the law that provided financing for the new Milwaukee Bucks arena, Fiserv Forum, and two-strike laws for child sex predators.

In a court memo filed Friday in the District III state Court of Appeals, Tseytlin warned Niess’ ruling “will call into grave doubt the validity of over three thousand pages of laws enacted over four decades.” Tseytlin is the former state solicitor general and now an attorney for the Chicago firm Troutman Sanders.

Immediately after the ruling, Evers and Kaul sought to do at least one thing the laws had barred: withdrawing Wisconsin from multi-state legal challenges to the federal health care law known as Obamacare.

The lame-duck laws to which Niess’ ruling applied limited the Attorney General’s ability to control the state’s participation in lawsuits, targeted Evers’ power to run the state’s economic-development agency and limited early voting hours.

Kaul told Evers in January that he would not represent him in this case because the extent to which the lame-duck laws affected the position of Attorney General created a conflict for the department.

On Friday, Assistant Attorney General Colin Roth wrote the state appeals court to say state law gives the Attorney General the right to be heard in a case that alleges a statute is unconstitutional.

“The Attorney General has a right to participate in the proceedings,” Roth wrote.

Evers’ attorneys also wrote the appeals court Friday, asking to be heard in the case.

Meanwhile a state Senate committee voted to give broad authorization to hire any law firms “deemed necessary” for any matters related to the Senate or any challenge to state law.

Under a motion approved by paper ballot Friday by the Senate Committee on Organization, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, would approve all costs and terms of legal services for the Wisconsin Legislature.

A Fitzgerald spokesman, Alec Zimmerman, said he has “no plans to hire additional attorneys” beyond what lawmakers already have retained.