Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers answered reporters questions at the State Capitol in Madison, Wisc., Thursday, March 21, 2019, after a Dane County judge has blocked the lame duck laws that Republicans passed in December to limit the power of the governor and attorney general. (Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

Republicans ask to stay order blocking lame-duck laws

March 22, 2019 - 2:02 pm

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans asked an appeals court Friday to immediately reinstate GOP-backed laws limiting the powers of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul.

Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess issued an injunction Thursday blocking the laws, which were quickly approved in December before Evers replaced Republican Gov. Scott Walker. On Friday, an attorney for the Republican lawmakers asked for an immediate stay to block Niess' order.

Attorney Misha Tseytln told the 3rd District Court of Appeals that Niess' injunction was already causing confusion for military and overseas voters, noting a state Supreme Court election is only days away.

Tseytln added that Neiss' ruling jeopardizes the validity of thousands of other laws passed during so-called extraordinary sessions, which are unscheduled legislative sessions convened by majority party leaders.

He also questioned whether scores of Walker's appointees still have jobs. Lawmakers confirmed 82 of Walker's appointees during the December session, ensuring Evers couldn't remove them when he took office.

"This indefensible injunction is already causing serious harm to our State," Tseytlin wrote.

The laws approved during the December lame-duck legislative session prohibit Evers from withdrawing the state from lawsuits without legislative approval. The move was designed to prevent him from pulling Wisconsin out of a multistate challenge to the Affordable Care Act, but Evers quickly started the process Thursday following Niess' order.

The laws also require Kaul to seek legislative approval before settling any case and to deposit settlement winnings in the state general fund rather than in state Department of Justice accounts. The laws also rework voting regulations, restricting early in-person voting to the two weeks preceding an election and loosening requirements for military and overseas voters. Their witnesses no longer have to be U.S. citizens, and they can use email to receive and transmit ballots.

A coalition of liberal-leaning groups led by the League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit challenging the legislation in January. The groups argued that the Legislature can't meet unless the time is specified in a law passed every two years or is called for by the governor. Extraordinary sessions aren't currently scheduled in that law, and the majority party calls them when it sees fit.

Niess agreed with the coalition Thursday, saying there was no statutory basis for extraordinary sessions.

Hours after Niess issued the injunction, Evers ordered Kaul to move to withdraw Wisconsin from the ACA lawsuit. Evers didn't immediately make any other moves with his restored powers, saying he needed time to digest the injunction.

The governor and the coalition sent letters to the appellate court Friday asking to be heard before it makes a decision on a stay. Evers' attorney, Tamara Packard, insisted Tseytlin was "grossly misstating" the injunction's effects.

Both Evers and the groups argued the case belongs in the 4th District Court of Appeals. The judges on that court include Gary Sherman, a former Democratic legislator; JoAnne Kloppenburg, a liberal-leaning former state Supreme Court candidate; and Brian Blanchard, a former Democratic prosecutor.

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