MADISON, Wisconsin (AP) — The conservatively-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court handed Republicans their latest weapon to weaken Democratic governors in the battlefield state, ruling this week that political appointees need not leave their posts until the Senate confirms their successor.
The decision of the court — in the case of a conservative who refused to resign from an environmental policy council for more than a year after his term expires – marks another loss to the Democratic administration Tony Evers as he is re-elected in November. Republicans have been working to reduce Evers’ powers even before he took office and have refused to confirm many of his appointees. This week’s ruling gives them the opportunity to block them by simply refusing to cast a nomination vote.
“Most people on the street would say that when a term ends… there is an opening. The Supreme Court has said common sense is wrong,” said Barry Burden, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The ruling “raises the question of why there is a term at all? Maybe we’re just saying someone serves for life like a US Supreme Court justice.”
Republicans are likely to control the legislature for years to come, largely as a result of gerrymanderated districts.
After Evers was elected in 2018, but before he took office, they passed laws during a lame-duck session that temporarily stripped him of his power to nominate members of the state’s economic development agency and gave lawmakers the ability to change executive rules. block agencies and policies.
According to Evers’ office, the Senate has so far refused to confirm about 42% of Evers’ 299 appointees. In addition, in 2019 the Senate took the rare step: vote not to confirm Evers’ agricultural secretary, Brad Pfaff, after Pfaff criticized GOP lawmakers for not providing enough money to help farmers with mental health problems. Pfaff had to resign.
The battle over nominations took a turn for the worse in the spring of 2021 when Fred Prehn’s term on the Department of Natural Resources policy council ended. Evers named his successor, a move that would have given his appointees a one-member majority on the board and given his government the power to shape environmental policy.
Prehn, who was appointed by former Republican administration Scott Walker, refused to resign. Since then, he has cast the decisive vote to increase the state’s wolf hunting quota and to remove the limits in well water for a group of chemicals known as PFAS, short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substance,
Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul has filed a lawsuit to force Prehn from the board. The conservative majority of the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a vacancy must exist before a governor can fill it — and that a “vacancy” only arises if the incumbent dies, resigns or is removed for misconduct.
The decision essentially prevents a governor from replacing the previous governor’s appointees without confirmation from the Senate.
The ruling shocked Democrats.
“Today I remind the Wisconsin Supreme Court and this state’s Republican Party that we still live in a democracy, a very fundamental function of which is the peaceful and respectful transfer of power, even — and especially — when you lose,” he said. Evers. “(His appointees) must be judged on their merits and must have the opportunity to serve the people of our state, whether they are appointed by a Democrat or share the same ideas as Republicans in the legislature.”
Kaul called the decision another symptom of the collapse of democracy.
“What this[ruling]does is allow the legislature not to represent the people of Wisconsin, extend its authority and control an executive agency,” Kaul said.
Adam Gibbs, a spokesperson for Senate Leader Devin LeMahieu, did not respond to messages.
Prehn isn’t the only Republican appointee to have refused to leave. The 13-member Wisconsin Technical College Board has three members whose terms of office ended in May 2021.
Nicholas Fleisher, chairman of the Wisconsin Division of the American Association of University Professors, said the Prehn decision also adds a new political layer to the University of Wisconsin’s System Board of Regents, 16 of whom will be appointed by the governor to serve. a term of seven years. She said it could damage the credibility of governance across the country.
“Like so many things in our (government) systems, there are certain norms, decorum and shame involved in making these systems work,” he said. “Those things are clearly out the window.”
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