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Wisconsin judge blocks law restricting AG on settlements

Posted: 2:58 PM, Mar 26, 2019
Updated: 2019-03-26 21:56:10Z
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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A second Wisconsin judge on Tuesday blocked key portions of laws that Republicans passed in a lame-duck session limiting Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul’s powers, handing Democrats another legal victory in their battle against the legislation in less than a week.

Judge Frank Remington issued a preliminary injunction blocking language that bars Evers from pulling Wisconsin out of multistate lawsuits without legislators’ permission. That statute was designed to keep Evers from pulling out of a multistate lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act.

The injunction also blocks provisions that require Kaul to get legislative approval before settling cases, force state agencies to review publications explaining how they interpret state law by July or else take the documents down, and allow lawmakers to suspend agency regulations multiple times.

Majority Republicans passed the legislation in December after Evers and Kaul defeated Republican incumbents in the November midterm election. The moves outraged Democrats, who urged outgoing Gov. Scott Walker not to sign the legislation. He did anyway.

Remington’s order stems from a union lawsuit alleging the laws violate the separation of powers between the Legislature and the executive branch. The unions argue the laws essentially steal power from the governor and attorney general and transfer it to lawmakers.

Walker appointed Remington to the bench in 2011. But the judge wrote in his order that government officials should focus on the people of Wisconsin rather than a “parochial vision of political power held by one party, or one branch of government over another.”

“The people of Wisconsin deserve more and the (state) constitution requires no less,” Remington wrote.

Evers praised the ruling, calling the lame-duck session “nothing more than an illegal power grab.”

It wasn’t a total win for Democrats. Remington let stand other sections that grant the Legislature the right to intervene in lawsuits with its own attorneys rather than Kaul’s state Department of Justice lawyers. The judge wrote that he can’t include those provisions in the injunction because he has “more questions than answers” since the Legislature has always been able to ask a judge to intervene in cases.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, both Republicans, said in a joint statement they were encouraged that Remington left some elements of the law alone but they will appeal the rest of his order.

In a separate lawsuit last week, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess blocked the laws in their entirety. In that case, a group of liberal-leaning organizations argued that the Legislature convened illegally when it passed the laws in December in a so-called extraordinary session.

Extraordinary sessions are previously unscheduled floor periods convened by the majority party. The liberal-leaning groups contend lawmakers can convene only on dates scheduled as part of a resolution the Legislature passes at the beginning of each biennium or at the governor’s call. Republicans have countered that position is absurd and outlawing extraordinary sessions would leave thousands of statutes passed during such sessions over the decades vulnerable to legal challenge.

Empowered by Niess’ injunction, Evers ordered Kaul to withdraw from the ACA lawsuit within hours of the judge issuing the order. On Friday he rescinded all 82 of Walker’s appointments.

Republicans have asked the 3rd District Court of Appeals to stay Niess’ ruling pending a full appeal. A decision could come at any time.

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This story has been corrected to remove a note that the judge let stand language that prohibits Evers from withdrawing from lawsuits without legislative approval. The order does block those provisions, allowing Evers to pull Wisconsin out of lawsuits.