Complaint Filed Seeking to Declare Extraordinary Session Legislation Unconstitutional

A coalition has filed a complaint seeking to deem the legislature’s 2018 extraordinary session legislation unconstitutional and unenforceable. The complaint argues that the extraordinary session was not convened in accordance with the Wisconsin Constitution, which authorizes the legislature to meet only as provided by law or when convened by the governor (Wis. Const. Art. IV, § 11).

The plaintiffs’ coalition includes the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Disability Rights Wisconsin, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, a heavy equipment operator and union member, a former Department of Natural Resources attorney, and a former Department of Justice attorney. Plaintiffs claim they are harmed provisions of the legislation including: new voting requirements, the elimination of illegal guidance documents, the elimination of judicial deference, the requirement that the attorney general deposit settlement funds into the general fund, and the legislature’s authority to intervene in attorney general actions.

However, a recent memo from Wisconsin Legislative Council to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) plainly states that convening an extraordinary session does not violate the Wisconsin Constitution. The constitution states that each house of the legislature can determine its own rules for proceedings (Wis. Const. Art. IV § 8). The rules for the 2017-18 session proscribed in 2017 Senate Joint Resolution 1 specifically state that any days not reserved for scheduled floorperiods are available for the legislature to convene an extraordinary session. Furthermore, the Wisconsin Supreme Court generally defers to the legislature on issues of legislative procedure (see State ex rel. La Follette v. Stitt, 114 Wis. 2d 358 (1983)). The complaint argues that since the rules were enacted by joint resolution, not a bill, they do not have the force of law allowing the legislature to meet according to Art. IV, § 11.

The Joint Committee on Legislative Organization has approved hiring outside counsel to defend the legislation.