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State Supreme Court agrees to hear veto challenge

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed on Wednesday to hear a case brought by a conservative law firm seeking to scale back governors’ ability to use partial budget vetoes to change the intent of legislators.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty brought the case in July after Gov. Tony Evers made 78 partial vetoes to the state budget passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The Supreme Court, which is controlled 5-2 by conservatives, agreed to take the case at WILL’s request, skipping the lower courts .

The case seeks to reverse more than four decades of precedent upholding the governor’s broad veto powers. The lawsuit specifically seeks to overturn four of Evers’ 78 partial vetoes, arguing that he improperly and unlawfully used his broad constitutional powers to devise laws that were never approved by the Legislature.

The court will hear oral arguments in the coming months and will most likely issue a decision next summer.

“Governor Evers abused his partial veto to create new laws out of whole cloth,” said Rick Esenberg, president of the group bringing the lawsuit. “The people of Wisconsin never intended the check on legislative power the governors’ veto represents to permit the governor to legislate on his own. We are pleased the court agreed that Governor Evers’ recent use of the partial veto warrants judicial review.”

Evers’ spokeswoman, Britt Cudaback, didn’t directly discuss the state Supreme Court’s decision to take the case. She defended the vetoes, however, saying they “were entirely consistent with the Wisconsin Constitution, decades of decisions by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and vetoes by prior governors.”

Evers has shrugged off the lawsuit as being little more than an attempt to re-fight old political battles.

The governor’s veto powers are spelled out in the Wisconsin Constitution. The lawsuit does not challenge those powers, but instead Evers’ use of them. In essence, it argues that he violated the separation of powers by using vetoes to devise laws that were never intended by the Legislature.

Separately, Republican lawmakers are pushing a constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters, would prohibit governors from using partial vetoes to increase the amount of spending allowed by individual bills.  A Senate committee held a hearing on the proposal this week.

Wisconsin governors, both Republican and Democratic, have long used their broad partial-veto powers to reshape the state budget. Former Gov. Scott Walker issued 98 partial vetoes in his last budget in 2017 and 104 in the one before that. Former Gov. Tommy Thompson holds the record for partial vetoes, having issued 457 in 1991.

Lawmakers and voters have been attempting to scale back the governor’s veto power almost since its inception in 1930. Starting in 1935, 25 constitutional amendments have been proposed to limit the governor’s power.

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