What Has the WI Supreme Court Wrought?

What Has the WI Supreme Court Wrought?

WI SC - 2 significant decisions

2024 | Week of January 8 | Radio Transcript #1548

What has the Wisconsin Supreme Court wrought? Is a fair question right now, as we echo Samuel Morse.  Recent weeks have brought at least two decision from the high court that demand our attention.

In October, the Mequon Brewing Company Super PAC filed what is known as an “original action petition” to the state Supreme Court, alleging that Wisconsin’s long-standing, very popular, and very successful school choice program is unconstitutional. Essentially, the argument made was that funding going to the voucher program takes money away from public schools and keeps them from giving students in those schools the education they deserve. Petitioners asked that the program be dismantled prior to the beginning of the 2024-2025 school year.

An “original action petition” means the petitioner believes the matter at hand is so important, so time-sensitive, and affects so many people that the lawsuit should skip the fact-finding district court and the appellate court and go directly to the state supreme court. The Supreme Court has sole discretion as to whether it will accept the case. At least four justices of the seven-member court must agree to take an original action petition.

After the petition had been filed, several individuals and at least one legal organization filed briefs advising the court to not accept the case.  Most notably, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Democrat Governor Tony Evers both filed briefs asking the court to deny the petition directly, arguing that there was not agreement on the facts and that the court acting quickly on the case would prevent clarification of the facts and a quick decision would unduly impact tens of thousands of families and students. Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty also weighed in, offering similar arguments for the court to not take the case.

Late last month, the state Supreme Court, without comment, unanimously denied the original action petition.  So, if the petitioners want to bring such a case, they have to start at the lowest level of courts, district court, where both sides get to argue the facts and the pertinent law.  What this means in practical outcome is that our school choice—that is our voucher—program is safe for the foreseeable future because of the high court’s decision.

However, also late last month, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, handed down another decision in a case involving an original action petition—one the court had earlier accepted. This case deals with our legislative maps that determine our assembly and senate districts. In this matter, the court, on a 4-3 vote, said the current maps violate the state constitution because too many boundaries are not, quote, “composed of physically adjoining territory.”

Last April, during the Supreme Court election these maps were a major issue. Janet Protaciewicz, the eventual winner, repeatedly said publicly that she thought the maps were “rigged” and “unfair.”  So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that she was one of the four forming the majority.

The court ordered the Republican-controlled legislature to redraw the maps before the 2024 fall elections.  Obviously, the governor will have to agree with whatever the legislature comes up with in order for those maps to be accepted. In the likely event that the governor and legislature don’t agree, the court is prepared to adopt its own maps.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said the GOP is prepared to appeal this decision, even to the US Supreme Court because they believe federal issues are arising from this lawsuit.  Late last week, the court announced that two consultants have been hired to analyze any maps submitted.

The maps from parties to the lawsuit are due this Friday.  Reports from the consultants are due by February 1. This timing means the court will likely release new maps sometime in late February or early March unless the Legislature acts first. The state elections commission says maps must be in place by March 15 if the new districts are to be in play for the November election.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers recently asked the Court to reconsider its original ruling on the case, but that’s unlikely.

Of course, Democrats are looking for a way to try to regain the majority in at least one house of the state legislature, if not both. To them, redrawn maps are the best way to accomplish their goal.

So what has the Wisconsin Supreme Court wrought? Some good, some not-so-good. The take aways are first, we must remember elections have very real consequences, and second, as believers we need to be praying for the justices and their decisions. The hearts of kings—and judges—are in the Lord’s hands.

This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you that God, through the Prophet Hosea, said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

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