MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers sided Friday with groups seeking repeal of laws weakening his powers that were passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature during a December lame-duck session.
The move marked the second time this week that Evers, a Democrat, has aligned himself with groups that filed lawsuits challenging the laws. He was named as a defendant in both cases, but Evers said he could not defend the laws that reduced his powers and those of Attorney General Josh Kaul.
Evers argued Friday in support of a temporary restraining order to block the laws, which the governor at the time, Scott Walker, signed into law just days before he was replaced by Evers. Four lawsuits have been filed challenging all or parts of what Walker enacted.
“For convenience, we refer to these enactments as laws, though we contend that they are in fact all null, i.e., not really laws at all,” Evers’ attorneys wrote in the brief Friday.
Evers argued that the Legislature had no authority under the Wisconsin Constitution to call itself into what is known as an “extraordinary session.” And, he contends, “many of the laws they passed in fact damage the fundamental balance of power among the three state branches of government, require the expenditure of tax funds which cannot be recovered (and) … will result in delay, diminishment, and denial of important government services.”
The underlying lawsuit argues the lame-duck the session was unconstitutional because it amounted to an illegal gathering of lawmakers. That case was brought by the League of Women Voters, Disability Rights Wisconsin, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities and three Wisconsin voters.
Misha Tseytlin, attorney for the Legislature, did not immediately return a message seeking reaction to the Evers’ filing. A hearing on whether the Legislature can intervene to defend the laws is set for March 13 in Dane County Circuit Court.
A second lawsuit, also in Dane County, was filed by five labor unions that argue the lame-duck laws steal power from the executive branch and transfer it to the Legislature in violation of the separation of powers doctrine.
Evers said in a filing Wednesday that he agrees with the unions’ position, and he called the law a “transparent and rushed attempt to stymie the incoming administrations.”
Kaul, a Democrat like Evers, has declined to defend the laws in either case.
A third lawsuit was filed in federal court on Thursday by the Wisconsin Democratic Party. Its case contends the lame-duck laws violate the U.S. Constitution’s free speech and equal protection guarantees. The laws amount to retaliation against Democrats for their political viewpoint, eliminating their ability to enact policies they support through Evers and Kaul and diluting their votes, the complaint alleged.
Republicans who voted to approve the laws have said they were within their legal rights to make the changes. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told reporters Thursday he was confident the courts would ultimately side in Republicans’ favor.
A fourth lawsuit filed in federal court challenged early voting restrictions that were included in the lame-duck laws. U.S. District Judge James Peterson struck down the restrictions in January, saying the limits mirror restrictions he blocked two years earlier.