New lawsuit from unions contends GOP lame-duck laws violate Constitution’s separation of powers

February 4, 2019 GMT

A group of unions on Monday filed another legal challenge against the controversial laws passed by Republican leaders just before Gov. Tony Evers took office.

The plaintiffs, who filed a complaint in Dane County Circuit Court, contend the laws violate constitutional separation-of-powers requirements.

The lawsuit is the third court action seeking to nullify portions of laws that curtailed early voting and barred Evers and new Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul from inheriting certain powers given to previous governors and attorneys general. The laws were passed by GOP lawmakers and signed by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker in December before he left office.

Unions bringing the suit are Service Employees International Union, Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers, American Federation of Teachers and Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. Nine individual plaintiffs also are listed, including state Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Mason.


The suit contends the laws violate the state Constitution by stripping powers from the executive branch of state government. It asks a judge to bar “any state official from attempting to apply, implement or enforce” the challenged provisions of the laws.

The laws are “a clear attempt by one branch, the Legislature, upset by an electoral outcome affecting another branch, to undo the separation of powers” in the Constitution, according to a copy of the complaint provided to the Wisconsin State Journal.

The suit also argues the laws — by giving new authority to legislative committees to halt the state’s role in litigation or to suspend state agency rules indefinitely — violate state constitutional requirements for legislative quorums.

Three liberal advocacy groups — League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Disability Rights Wisconsin and Black Leaders Organizing for Communities — have filed suit contending the so-called “extraordinary session” held to pass the laws was unconstitutional.

One of the lame-duck laws curtailed access to early voting in a way that particularly affects Democratic-leaning population centers such as Madison and Milwaukee. Liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now is bringing a lawsuit seeking to overturn those measures.

In addition, a state lawmaker, Rep. Jimmy Anderson, has asked Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne to file suit against state Assembly leaders and void the votes that passed the laws. Anderson, who is paralyzed from the chest down, contends Assembly Republican leaders broke state open-meetings law by not telling him when early-morning votes on the laws would be held, which he contends prevented him from participating in those votes.