October 31, 2014

Delaying controversial court rulings

The fight over new state laws is often far from over after the bill passes the Legislature and is signed by the governor. As seen in recent disputes over Governor Scott Walker’s changes to collective bargaining for public employees and a requirement that Wisconsin voters show a photo ID at the polls, those laws frequently end up in court through challenges that start at the circuit court level.

Until recently, those cases could only be filed in Dane County circuit court, a fact that has often favored Democrats seeking injunctions to stop new laws from taking effect. Such rulings were successful in delaying Act 10 and have now kept the voter ID requirement from being implemented for more than a year.

Republicans changed state law last session to allow those cases to be filed in any Wisconsin county. Now, GOP lawmakers are seeking to change the impact of those decisions in the future.

A bill introduced by state Representative David Craig (R-Big Bend) and state Senator Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) would still allow circuit court judges to issue injunctions and orders that block laws, but those decisions would then be stayed while the state appeals them to a higher court. At a Capitol hearing on the bill Wednesday, Craig argued the change is needed to address the legal uncertainty that can come with decisions made by a judge “only elected by a fraction of our state’s population.”

AUDIO: Rep. David Craig (:16)

Critics of the bill worry it could infringe on the powers of the judicial branch. Milwaukee Democrat Christine Sinicki argued it “tramples on the rights of the people of the state of Wisconsin” and warned that the bill could “come back to bite” Republicans if they ever fall out of control at the Capitol and seek to block laws they believe to be unconstitutional.

AUDIO: Rep. Christine Sinicki (:08)

Craig contends that the legislation would not stop judges from issuing an injunction. It simply gives a higher court a chance to review a circuit court decision overturning a state law before it impacts the entire state.

The measure is currently before a state Assembly committee.

UDPATE: A memo from the state’s Legislative Council indicates there may be constitutional questions about the bill.