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A court just blocked Wisconsin Republicans’ lame-duck power grab

It’s a big — temporary — win for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

Former President Obama Campaigns With Wisconsin Democratic Candidates
Gov. Tony Evers gets back the powers Republicans stripped from the office in December.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Wisconsin’s newly elected Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is getting his power back — at least, for now.

Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul were handed a huge, albeit temporary, win in the court this week, when a judge blocked Republicans’ lame-duck power grab aimed at limiting Democrats’ newfound power in the state.

State Republicans passed a slate of bills in December curbing Evers’s ability to change policies around welfare, health care, and economic development, as well as limiting the attorney general’s powers, while former Republican Gov. Scott Walker was still in office. Among other provisions, the laws blocked Evers’s power to expand Medicaid coverage, stopped Kaul from withdrawing the state from a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, and stripped Evers’s authority over key executive branch appointments.

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Richard Niess ruled these laws unconstitutional Thursday, because they were passed in an “executive session” of the legislature “not convened in accord with the Wisconsin Constitution.”

Republican state leaders have already promised to appeal the ruling, which would send it to a conservative-majority court — a step that could possibly reinstate the laws.

For now, Evers and Kaul are making the most of their restored powers. Kaul has already moved to withdraw Wisconsin from the federal court case Texas v. United States, which threatens to overturn Obamacare’s ban on preexisting conditions.

This is the second time this year that a court has deemed Republicans’ lame-duck push unconstitutional. In January, a federal judge struck down Wisconsin Republicans’ law restricting early voting, another key component of the bills Walkers signed in his last days in office.

Republicans’ intentions have always been clear: After devastating losses in the 2018 midterm elections, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature wants to protect conservative legacies.

“We are going to have a very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in,” Republican Speaker of the Wisconsin state Assembly Robin Vos said last year.

But liberal groups in the state vowed to take Republicans to court — and for now it seems they have some wins under their belt.