Federal Judge Rules Wisconsin’s Lame-Duck Laws Should Be Heard in State Court

The Wisconsin state capital building in Madison.

The Wisconsin state capital building in Madison. Shutterstock

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Florida Senate official recommends sheriff of county that includes Parkland be reinstated … New Jersey lawmaker proposes voter registration through Fish and Wildlife Service … Los Angeles erects a statue to honor migrants.

A federal judge in Wisconsin threw out a lawsuit brought by the state Democratic Party over lame-duck laws passed by the Republican legislature before Democratic Gov. Tony Evers took office in 2019. The laws restricted the authority of the governor and attorney general, two positions that were flipped from Republican to Democrat by the 2018 elections. Democrats claim that the laws and the procedures used to pass them were unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge James Peterson ruled that the issue needed to be handled in state court instead. "There are many reasons to criticize the lame-duck laws. But the role of a federal court is not to second-guess the wisdom of state legislation, or to decide how the state should allocate the power among the branches of its government...The bottom line is that federal courts don’t have the authority," Peterson ruled. Five lawsuits, including the one thrown out this week, have been filed over the laws, which created new rules for the attorney general requiring him to seek the approval of the legislature before settling lawsuits and preventing the governor from appointing certain roles without approval, among other changes. Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said that the party is currently exploring its legal options. “Less than a year ago, the GOP robbed Wisconsin voters of their voice by stripping away powers those voters had awarded to their next governor and Attorney General. The Democratic Party has fought against the GOP’s shocking assault on democracy at every turn, and we will keep fighting,” he said. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said that the lawsuit was “frivolous” and “meritless” and agreed that the judge should have thrown it out. “As a result of their suit, the Democrats impeded state government and cost hard-working Wisconsin taxpayers money,” he said. Several cases are still pending regarding the legality of the lame-duck laws. This month, the state Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case brought by unions that claims the lame-duck laws violate the separation of powers doctrine. [Wisconsin State Journal; Courthouse News Service; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

PARKLAND SHERIFF | A special master appointed by the Florida Senate is recommending that Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel should be reinstated. Israel was suspended in January by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said that the Parkland school shooting, which left 17 students dead, could have been avoided with better deputy training. DeSantis claimed Israel was incompetent, but Special Master Dudley Goodlette found that there was no evidence to suggest training could have prevented the shooting. Goodlette did say that the county’s active shooter policy wasn’t strong enough. "While the governor has offered a plethora of criticism, he has not shown that Sheriff Israel's policies, procedures or trainings on active shooter situations were inconsistent with Florida law enforcement standards," he  said. DeSantis disagrees with the report’s findings and said he hopes the Senate will vote not to reinstate the sheriff. "Floridians were appalled by Scott Israel's repeated failures and expect their senators will provide the accountability that the Parkland families have sought for the past year and a half," the governor said. Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa died in the Parkland shooting, similarly said that she was disappointed. "I feel like someone just punched me in the stomach,” she said. [Orlando Sentinel; NPR]

VOTER REGISTRATION | A New Jersey lawmaker has introduced legislation that would allow residents to register to vote through the state Fish and Wildlife Service, and through businesses licensed to sell hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses. When purchasing a license, the buyer would automatically be registered to vote, unless they asked not to be. Assemblyman Ronald Dancer, a Republican, said that he proposed the bill in response to a Democratic effort last year to increase voter registration; Democrats’ push changed state law so that anyone obtaining documents at the DMV is automatically registered to vote. Republicans in the state legislature opposed the so-called “Motor Voter” law because they said it was intended to increase Democrats’ advantage amongst voter registration rates. Currently, 2.3 million voters are registered Democrats in the state, compared to 1.3 million registered Republicans. “If we really want to increase voter participation, we should expand the number of agencies that offer voter registration,” Dancer said. [Burlington County Times]

MIGRANT STATUE | The city of Los Angeles erected a statue honoring “braceros,” Mexican migrants who came to the United States for temporary work under a government program that lasted for decades. Elected officials say that the monument is meant to honor the history of braceros in the city while also serving as a reminder that Los Angeles will stand up to federal policy changes that crack down on immigration. “We’re now sending a message, despite what the president’s doing, we’re moving forward. You can have your rhetoric that is anti-immigrant, that is counter to what the city of Los Angeles believes in,” said City Councilman José Huizar. Dan Medina, the sculptor who created the statue, said that he hopes more people learn about the bracero program as the result of his work. “The history of the bracero is not at the forefront, but...whenever I did mention the design or the monument, there would always be someone who would say, my father or my uncle was a bracero. There is definitely a lineage in L.A. of braceros,” he said. [LA Downtown News; KTLA]

CAR CONVENTION | An unofficial gathering of car enthusiasts in Ocean City, Maryland, led to skirmishes with the police and streets full of smoke as cars completed burnouts. Participants had come for the H2Oi car event, which officially moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey two years ago, but still draws stragglers to Ocean City. The mayor of the city, Rick Meehan, said that car enthusiasts will not be welcome again. "What took place this past weekend in Ocean City can never happen again. This group came to town with the sole purpose to raise havoc in our community, to disrupt our lives and defy law enforcement,” he said. Meehan said that police had to disperse a crowd of several hundred people with pepper spray, prompting some in the crowd to throw bottles and rocks at officers. Ashley Miller, a spokeswoman for the Ocean City Police Department, said that the entire weekend was “an enormous disturbance, not only to our residents and visitors but to our police officers and allied agencies who are working to keep our city safe." [NBC 4; Delmarva Now]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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