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BREAKING: Wisconsinites Sue to Prevent Enforcement of Laws Passed During Legislature’s Anti-Democratic “Extraordinary Session”

On January 10, a group of Wisconsin organizations and taxpayers sued the Wisconsin Election Commission and Governor Tony Evers, claiming that last month’s “extraordinary” legislative session and all resulting laws are void under the state constitution. The plaintiffs are asking the court to enjoin enforcement of those laws.

The legal papers were filed this morning on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Disability Rights Wisconsin, and Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, civil rights organizations with vast constituencies. The organizations were joined by three Wisconsin residents, union laborer Guillermo Aceves, longtime natural resources lawyer and advocate Michael Cain, and former Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General John Greene. They are represented in the matter by Madison and Milwaukee-based law firm Stafford Rosenbaum, nonpartisan nonprofit Protect Democracy, and law firm Robbins Russell.

STATEMENT OF PROTECT DEMOCRACY COUNSEL DEANA EL-MALLAWANY

“Two key features of a democracy are that voters get to choose the people in power, and that power is transferred in an orderly manner. The legislature acted not only to override the will of the voters, but to hamstring future voters from expressing that will by limiting early voting.

Ultimately, this is about the health of our democracy. State legislators took action in an unauthorized ‘lame duck’ session for the clear purpose of taking power away from the winner of an election. That behavior is anti-democratic, no matter which party does it. It also violates the Wisconsin Constitution, and the court should step in to prevent it.

STATEMENT OF PLAINTIFF LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS WISCONSIN EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR ERIN GRUNZE

“Wisconsin voters expect lawmakers to represent their interests in a transparent manner—not to make late-night personal power grabs. This attempt to override the voices of Wisconsin citizens undermines our democracy and we urge the court to see this ‘extraordinary session’ of the legislature as unconstitutional.

We are asking the court to prohibit enforcement of the bills passed during the ‘extraordinary session’ to ensure the integrity of the state’s spring elections.”

STATEMENT OF LEAD COUNSEL JEFFREY MANDELL

“The text of the Wisconsin Constitution is unambiguous. The legislature does not have the authority to convene itself in an ‘extraordinary session.’ Because the session was unconstitutional, all business conducted is illegal and, therefore, void. Fidelity to the Constitution is a fundamental principle of law.”

Background

Following the results of Wisconsin’s record-turnout 2018 statewide election, the Wisconsin legislature moved swiftly to pass laws restricting the authority of newly elected Governor Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, both of whom defeated incumbents. The legislature also passed laws restricting early voting to two weeks.  When a majority of Wisconsinites voted for a change of party in statewide offices in November, it was mostly the result of record turnout in Dane and Milwaukee counties, Wisconsin’s two largest, both of which allowed roughly six weeks of early voting.

To pass these laws, the Wisconsin legislature called itself into an “extraordinary session.” The state’s constitution empowers the legislature to meet in regular sessions established by statute, or in a “special session” called by the Governor. There is no constitutional provision that allows for the legislature to call an “extraordinary session” on its own initiative.  The legislature was acting outside the scope of its constitutional powers.

This lawsuit isn’t about partisanship, it’s about the health of our democracy. Conservatives like GOP former Governor Scott McCallum recognize that and have spoken out about the legislature’s anti-democratic actions: “The process has not been a good process, where people rush at the last minute in a lame duck session, after the elections, to try to put things through. It looks like a power grab. It is not good public policy.”

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin published a press release here.

For additional details, see the League of Women Wisconsin v. Knutson case page.

Protect Democracy is a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to preventing American democracy from declining into a more authoritarian form of government. In November, Protect Democracy filed lawsuits against Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Florida Governor Rick Scott seeking to prevent them from using their official positions to influence elections in which they were candidates.

Jeffrey A. Mandell is a partner at the law firm Stafford Rosenbaum LLP, which has offices in Madison, WI and Milwaukee, WI. Mr. Mandell is a litigator with broad trial and appellate experience in federal and state courts, including the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lawrence Robbins is a trial and appellate litigator who handles both criminal and complex civil litigation. Mr. Robbins has extensive experience in state and federal courts across the country and has argued eighteen cases in the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a partner at the law firm Robbins Russell Englert Orseck Untereiner & Sauber LLP, which has an office in Washington, DC.

Press inquiries can be directed to:

Erin Grunze at egrunze@lwvwi.org

Jeff Mandell at jmandell@staffordlaw.com

Aaron Baird at aaron.baird@protectdemocracy.org or (626) 644-8360