Wisconsin Supreme Court agrees to hear governor’s lawsuit against GOP-controlled Legislature

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ lawsuit against the Republican-controlled Legislature arguing that it is obstructing basic government functions.

The court’s liberal majority agreed to hear the case, with the three conservative justices dissenting. It set oral arguments for April 17.

The court only agreed to immediately hear one of the three issues Evers brought forward in the complaint. That issue relates to the Legislature’s Republican-controlled budget committee blocking funding for state conservation programs.

Evers had also challenged a committee made up of legislative leaders not approving pay raises for University of Wisconsin employees. But after the lawsuit was filed, the panel did approve the raises. Evers had also challenged a legislative committee blocking updates to the state’s commercial building standards and ethics standards for licensed professionals.

The court said it was keeping both of those issues on hold pending a future order.

Liberal justices Janet Protasiewicz, Rebecca Dallet, Jill Karofsky and Ann Walsh Bradley agreed to take the case. Conservative Chief Justice Annette Ziegler and justices Brian Hagedorn and Rebecca Bradley dissented.

Rebecca Bradley, in her dissent, accused the majority of “needlessly engulfing this court in the morass of politics.”

“By accepting only one of the issues raised by the Governor and holding the other two issues in abeyance, the majority refashions this court as the Governor’s avenue for imposing policy changes without the consent of the governed,” she wrote. “When the majority’s political allies say jump, the new majority responds: ‘How high?’ ”

Hagedorn, who dissented separately, said the case was consequential and questioned taking it directly rather than have facts established through proceedings in lower courts first.

“A decision in this case could occasion a historic shift — both in the operation of state government, and in how this court interprets the boundary lines between the branches of government,” Hagedorn wrote. “Thoughtful lower court decisions usually improve the clarity of our work by framing the arguments and telling the parties what worked and what didn’t.”

Evers and the Republican legislative leaders Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu did not return messages seeking comment.

Evers argued in the lawsuit that committees controlled by a few Republican lawmakers are being used by the Legislature to “reach far beyond its proper zone of constitutional lawmaking authority.”

Evers cites the Legislature’s budget-writing committee’s rejection of dozens of conservation projects selected by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources under the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. Republicans have long been critics of the program, which protects land from development.

LeMahieu dismissed the lawsuit as frivolous at the time it was filed, saying in a statement that Evers was “working to diminish the voice of Wisconsinites by limiting the authority of the legislature and unduly strengthening his own administration.”

Evers and the GOP-controlled Legislature have been at odds from the moment Evers was elected in November 2018. He has issued more vetoes than any other Wisconsin governor, including blocking numerous bills changing how elections would be run in the key presidential battleground state.

The Legislature convened a lame duck session just weeks before Evers took office to weaken the incoming governor’s powers. They have repeatedly rejected appointees Evers has made to boards and commissions, including firing a majority of the Natural Resources Board in October.

In another sign of their strained relationship, Evers has rarely met with Republican legislative leaders. Evers is in the second year of his second term.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court flipped to majority liberal control in August. In December, it struck down Republican-drawn legislative maps on a 4-3 decision. The Evers lawsuit is one of several high-profile cases filed by Democrats since the court’s majority changed.

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