‘Went too far:’ Gov. Evers joins labor unions arguing for order blocking lame-duck law
MADISON — Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has joined a coalition of labor unions in asking a judge to suspend a lame-duck law passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature that limits his powers.
Evers filed an affidavit Wednesday in Madison calling for an injunction to block the measure. He contends in the document that the law violates separation of powers principles, hampers his ability to control litigation on the state’s behalf and could force state agencies to take down tens of thousands of documents explaining how they interpret state statutes.
“This transparent and rushed attempt to stymie the incoming administrations went too far,” the affidavit states.
Misha Tseytlin, an attorney representing Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, declined to comment. He said the Republicans’ position would become clear in forthcoming briefs.
Republican lawmakers passed statutes in a December extraordinary session that limit the powers of the governor and the attorney general. The move was designed to hinder Evers and incoming Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul before they took office in early January.
The law prohibits Evers from ordering Kaul to withdraw from lawsuits, ensuring Evers can’t pull Wisconsin out of a multistate lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act. Kaul must obtain permission from the Legislature’s budget-writing committee before he can settle lawsuits and allows lawmakers to intervene in litigation using their own attorneys.
State agencies also must take down publications that explain how they interpret state law by July 1 unless they send all the publications through a new process that includes a public comment period.
Five unions, including the Service Employees International Union and the Wisconsin chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, filed a lawsuit in Dane County circuit court earlier this month arguing the law violates the separation of powers doctrine by stealing power from the executive branch and transferring it to the legislative branch. They also contend the law could result in a vast number of basic government communications vanishing and taxpayers footing lawmakers’ bills for private attorneys.
The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order as well as a temporary injunction blocking the law.
The unions named Evers as a defendant, but in his affidavit he adopts their positions. He maintains the lame-duck law limits his ability to enforce the law and hampers his ability to direct litigation on the state’s behalf. He goes on to argue that state agencies won’t be able to meet the July deadline for updating guidance documents, leaving vulnerable populations in the dark about how state services work, and allowing lawmakers to intervene in litigation using private attorneys will be costly for taxpayers and complicate cases.
Kaul is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. He filed a brief last Friday saying he would not defend the law, saying his office has a substantial interest in the outcome, creating a conflict that prevents him from representing Republican defendants, including Vos. Kaul added that his office will take the position that parts of the law are unconstitutional.
Oral arguments in the case are set for March 25 before Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington.
A group of liberal-leaning organizations including the League of Women Voters also has filed a lawsuit in state court challenging the law. They argue the Legislature lacked authority to convene in extraordinary session. Kaul also has refused to defend the state in that case, again saying his office has an interest in the outcome and that creates a conflict.
Liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now persuaded U.S. District Judge James Peterson in January to strike down sections of the lame-duck law that restricted early in-person voting.