A Wisconsin judge on Thursday ordered Gov. Scott Walker (R) to call the special elections for two legislative seats that he has refused to call since December, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Democrats sued Walker over his refusal to schedule quick elections and said he wouldn’t do so because he was afraid of losing the contests to Democrats.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Josann Reynolds, a Walker appointee, ordered the governor to call the elections within a week. An appeal of that order is expected.
Amy Hasenberg, a Walker spokeswoman, told HuffPost that the governor was consulting with the state’s attorneys to “determine the next steps in this case.”
The dispute involves two seats ― one in the Wisconsin State Assembly and one in the Wisconsin Senate ― that became vacant in December 2017 when the Republican incumbents resigned to take jobs in Walker’s administration. Walker said he wouldn’t hold a special election for the open seats, but would instead allow them to be filled by the regularly scheduled elections in November 2018. The winners of those elections wouldn’t be seated until January 2019.
Walker insisted that he had no legal obligation to call the special election sooner and that he was saving the state money by not doing so. But Democrats argued that his decision was motivated by the fact that Republicans lost a special election this January in a Wisconsin district that President Donald Trump had carried by more than 20 points in 2016. Walker labeled that election a “wake-up call.”
Wisconsin law says that a special election must be held as promptly as possible for any vacancy in the state legislature that occurs before the second Tuesday in May in a regularly scheduled election year. Walker’s team contended that he was not obligated to call a special election because the vacancies occurred in 2017, not the regularly scheduled election year of 2018, according to the Journal Sentinel.
In a bench ruling Thursday, Reynolds accused state Attorney General Brad Schimel’s office of reading the law in an absurd way and not following “basic rules of grammar.” She also accused his office of being hypocritical in advocating generally for a strict reading of laws while interpreting the relevant statute in this case in a way that undermined “the most basic constitutional guarantee.”
The judge alluded to the fact that Walker’s decision had left 175,000 people without a voice in the state legislature. While Reynolds’ order came as that legislature ended its regular session, she noted that it was likely to be called back for a special session, in which voters in the two districts deserved to have their full voice.
The lawsuit challenging the governor’s lack of action was brought by the National Redistricting Foundation, an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that is focused on state races this year.
“This is an important victory for the impacted citizens of Wisconsin who have gone without representation because of Governor Walker’s refusal to call special elections,” Holder said in a statement after the judge made her order. “One of our most basic rights as American citizens is that we get to vote and have representation in our legislatures. Governor Walker’s actions have undermined that right and it never should have taken legal action to force him to do his job.”
This story has been updated with comment from Eric Holder.