MADISON – The Wisconsin Supreme Court won’t consider how the state handles legal settlements under a set of lame-duck laws that limit the powers of Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul.
The pair of Democratic officials in November asked the high court to rule that they did not need to get permission from Republicans who control the Legislature to resolve certain lawsuits.
They brought the matter directly to the Supreme Court without first going to a lower court. On Wednesday, the justices issued a short order declining to take the case.
The justices did not explain their reasoning and no dissents were noted. The justices typically want cases to be first considered by lower courts before they take them, but they sometimes accept cases that are high profile or politically charged if they view them as urgent.
The decision not to take the case leaves the issue of court settlements unresolved for the time being.
In December 2018 — after Evers and Kaul were elected, but before they were sworn in — Republicans passed a set of laws that trimmed their authority. A wave of litigation followed, with courts mostly siding with Republicans.
Some issues have not been fully addressed, including a portion of the laws that says the Legislature’s budget committee must sign off on some court settlements involving the state.
Last summer, the justices concluded the settlement provision does not violate the state constitution in all situations but left open the possibility that it might some of the time. That decision prompted Evers and Kaul to bring their latest lawsuit.
Evers and Kaul argue lawmakers should not get to sign off on cases where Kaul is enforcing environmental laws and consumer-protection laws, or when he is representing state agencies in breach-of-contract cases and similar matters.
Those cases should be handled by the executive branch alone, they argue. Allowing lawmakers to have a say in those cases violates the state constitution’s separation-of-powers doctrines, they maintain.
Republicans say they should be given a chance to make sure the governor and attorney general are making legal decisions that are good for the state.
Contact Patrick Marley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.