MADISON – A judge threw out a lawsuit over Wisconsin’s lame-duck laws Monday, concluding that Democrats had to make their case in state court, not federal court.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge James Peterson was the latest court defeat for Democrats and their allies who have fought laws Republican lawmakers approved in December, just before Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul took office.
Two other lawsuits over the lame-duck laws are pending. Those cases are before the state Supreme Court, where conservatives hold a 5-2 majority.
The state Democratic Party sued over the laws in February, arguing that the measures limiting the powers of Evers and Kaul discriminated against voters’ political beliefs and violated Democrats’ freedom of speech.
But Peterson ruled the Democratic Party didn’t have legal standing to bring the lawsuit because it wasn’t harmed by the lame-duck laws. State court — not federal court — is the place to resolve disputes over the laws, he wrote.
“The bottom line is that federal courts don’t have the authority under the United States Constitution to police the boundaries between legislative and executive power in state government in the absence of a concrete and particularized harm and the violation of a federal constitutional right,” Peterson ruled. “If Evers, Kaul, or anyone else believes that the state Legislature has overstepped its lawful authority, the remedy is a lawsuit in state court under the state constitution.”
Courtney Beyer, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Party, didn’t say whether the party would appeal the ruling.
“We’re currently considering all our options,” she said by email.
Spokespeople for Evers and Republican legislative leaders did not immediately react to the ruling.
The lame-duck laws put restrictions on Evers and Kaul in numerous ways. Among them were ones limiting Evers’ authority over economic development, forcing his administration to rewrite thousands of government documents and requiring Kaul to get permission from lawmakers before settling lawsuits.
“There are many reasons to criticize the lame-duck laws,” wrote Peterson, who was appointed to the bench in 2014 by President Barack Obama. “But the role of a federal court is not to second-guess the wisdom of state legislation, or to decide how the state should allocate the power among the branches of its government.”
Five lawsuits, including the one that yielded Monday’s ruling, have been filed over aspects of the lame-duck laws. So far, the court decisions have mostly gone Republicans’ way and most of the lame-duck laws remain in place.
In one of the other lawsuits, Peterson threw out part of the lame-duck laws that would have limited early voting. In another, the state Supreme Court ruled against a group that argued lawmakers passed the lame-duck laws in an illegal legislative session.
The state Supreme Court will hold arguments in October in a lawsuit brought by unions that argues the lame-duck laws violate the separation-of-powers doctrine that spells out the authority of the legislative and executive branches.
In their own lawsuit, Republican legislative leaders went directly to the Supreme Court to ask the judges to rule Kaul was violating the lame-duck laws in how he has handled court settlements. The justices haven’t decided whether to take that case.
You can find out who your legislators are and how to contact them here: https://maps.legis.wisconsin.gov/
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.
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