Tag Archives: wisconsin

Scott Walker and the noncommutativity of Wisconsin statute, part II

Hey so remember last month, when the Walker administration didn’t want to fill two empty legislative seats, so they decided to treat the state law forbidding this as if it said something else?

Here, I’ll recap.  The law, statute 8.50 (4) (d), says:

Any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring before the 2nd Tuesday in May in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat shall be filled as promptly as possible by special election.

The state has decided to pretend the law says, instead:

Any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat, before the 2nd Tuesday in May shall be filled as promptly as possible by special election.

In other words, the state’s claim is that a special election is required only if the vacancy occurs between January 1 and the 2nd Tuesday of May in an election year.  Whereas what the actual law says is that an election is to be called if there’s a vacancy any time before that 2nd Tuesday in May, i.e. as long as there’s enough time to call an election and have the new officeholder participate meaningfully in legislating.

Six voters in the affected districts have sued the governor.  There’s a hearing in the Dane County Circuit Court this week, on March 22.

The state has issued its response to the petition.

I’ve read the response.  It upset me.  It really upset me!  Not because I even care that much about whether we hold these elections!  But because the people whose job it is to uphold our state’s laws don’t care what those laws are.

The state’s leading argument is “mootness,” which goes like this: “we’ve now delayed this long enough that voters would not longer get any meaningful benefit from the state fulfilling the law’s requirements, so the claim that we have to fulfill the law’s requirements doesn’t stand.”

That might work!

Then it gets really interesting.  Here’s a passage from the response:

Under Wis. Stat. §8.50(4)(d), the Governor has a positive and plain duty to call a special election only when a vacancy occurs in the year of a general election from January 1 until the 2nd Tuesday in May.  Because the vacancies here did not occur in that year, Governor Walker has no positive and plain duties to call special elections.

See what they did?  They switched it!  They switched the order of the clauses in the statute to make it say what it does not, in fact, say!  Not satisfied with that, they added the language about January 1, which isn’t present in the law!

Won’t the judge ask them about this?  Won’t the judge want to know what possessed the state to “paraphrase” a law by moving words around and adding language, instead of quoting the language of the statute itself?

The response then goes on to explain why their interpretation of the law “makes sense.”  What they in fact do is explain why it makes sense that a special election isn’t required for vacancies taking place after May of the election year (the point on which their claim agrees with the law).  They are silent on why it makes sense that a special election isn’t required before January 1 of the election year.  Because that doesn’t make sense.

Maybe the screwiest part of all of this is that the statute in question uses language that appears again and again in Wisconsin code.  Look, here’s how 59.10(3)(e) authorizes special elections for vacancies on county boards:

The board may, if a vacancy occurs before June 1 in the year preceding expiration of the term of office, order a special election to fill the vacancy.

According to the state’s account, this means that special elections are authorized only if the vacancy occurs in the year preceding the election year.

If that’s the case, nobody told Sauk County, where a special election was ordered in August 2016 to fill a vacant seat on the county board.  It’s hard to doubt there are many such examples — all unauthorized by state law, according to the Walker administration’s current claim.

How could Brad Schimel have put his name to this?

(Update:  here’s the plaintiffs’ response to the state’s response.)

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Bike/ski weekend

Last week, for the first time in my life, I bought a new bike.  For the last twelve years I’ve been riding a Trek hybrid I bought used when I moved here.  Before that, from about 1992 through 2005, I was on my mom’s 1967 Schwinn Breeze, which looked exactly like this one.

Anyway:  I got a new bike.  I got CJ one too.  Then AB was upset but she doesn’t get a new bike because she is growing very very fast and probably won’t be able to sit on the next bike she gets for more than a couple of years.  So we went to Dreambikes and got her a new used bike, knobby tires, shocks on the front fork, very cool.  The three of us took a spin around Wingra yesterday, about 7 miles, which is AB’s record for a non-stop ride.

Today was the last day of the season at Cascade Mountain, and my kids for the first time in many months and no activities scheduled, and the high for today was 55 degrees, and who doesn’t like to ski in shirtsleeves?  So off we went.  We were worried it would be packed.  But it was empty.  I guess everyone else in Wisconsin was using the first warm day of pre-spring to do outdoor activities not involving ice and snow.  But those who were there were festive.  There were a lot of guys in flannel shirts open with bare chest underneath; is that a look?  Several people in tutus.  A guy who played the guitar while skiing down the mountain.  A skiing Pikachu.

By mid-afternoon it was like skiing on a snowcone.  Huge puddles in the lift line.  But we had a great time.  If I were particular about the quality of my skiiing I wouldn’t be skiing in Wisconsin, would I?

 

 

 

 

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Scott Walker and the Let’s Eat Grandma theory of legislative interpretation

How do you know when to call a special election for an empty legislative seat in Wisconsin?  It’s right there in the statutes, 8.50 (4) (d):

Any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring before the 2nd Tuesday in May in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat shall be filled as promptly as possible by special election. However, any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring after the close of the last regular floorperiod of the legislature held during his or her term shall be filled only if a special session or extraordinary floorperiod of the legislature is called or a veto review period is scheduled during the remainder of the term. The special election to fill the vacancy shall be ordered, if possible, so the new member may participate in the special session or floorperiod.

Pretty clear, right?  If a Senate or Assembly seat comes open before May of election year,  the governor has to call a special election, unless the last legislative session has already taken place and no extra legislative business is scheduled before November.  You hold an election unless the duration of the vacancy would be so short as to make the election essentially meaningless.

There are two seats in the Capitol open as we speak, the Senate seat formerly held by Frank Lasee and the Assembly seat once occupied Keith Ripp; both of them left to take jobs in the Walker administration in January.  But the governor has asserted that no special election will be held, and residents of those districts will go unrepresented in the legislature for almost a full year.

What’s Walker’s excuse for ignoring the law?  Are you sitting down?  The state’s claim is that the phrase “in the year” does not refer to “May,” but rather “any vacancy.”  So a vacancy arising in March 2018 is required by law to be filled “as promptly as possible” by state law, despite the severely limited amount of lawmaking the new representative would be have a chance to undertake; but if an assembly rep drops dead on the second day of the legislative term, the governor can leave the seat empty for two whole years if he wants.

I kid you not! That is the claim!

Do you think that’s really what the law says?

As this long, well-researched WisContext article makes clear, Walker’s “interpretation” of the law is, well, a novelty.  For fifty years, Wisconsin has been filling legislative vacancies promptly by special elections.  Most of these elections, according to Scott Walker, were optional, some kind of gubernatorial whim.  And it’s definitely not the case that the governor is leaving the seats empty because he’s spooked by the current lust-to-vote of Wisconsin’s Democratic electorate, which has already cost Republicans a long-held seat in Senate District 10.

The Walker administration would like us to read the law as if the phrases came in the opposite order:

Any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat, before the 2nd Tuesday in May

But English is non-commutative; that sentence says one thing, and 8.50 (4)(d) says a different thing.

Even an extra comma would make Walker’s interpretation reasonable:

Any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring before the 2nd Tuesday in May, in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat

Commas change meaning.  As the old T-shirt says:  let’s eat grandma!

I suppose we should count ourselves lucky.  Given the syntactic latitude Walker has granted himself, where a prepositional phrase can wander freely throughout a sentence modifying whatever catches its fancy, he might have claimed a special selection is required only if a legislative vacancy occurs in May of an election year!  That would make just as much sense as the interpretation Walker’s claiming now.  Which is to say:  none.

What’s the remedy here?  I’m not sure there is one.  Someone in one of the affected districts could sue the state, but I don’t think there’s any prospect a lawsuit would conclude in time to make any difference.  I can’t see a court ordering an emergency halt to a legislative session on the grounds that two seats were illegally unfilled.

So there’s not much to stop the governor from breaking state law in this way.  Except natural human embarrassment.  A government that has lost the capacity to be embarrassed can be very difficult to constrain.

Update, Feb 26:  Looks like I was wrong to say nobody was going to do anything about this!  A group of voters in the affected districts, represented by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, sued Governor Walker today.  Good for them.

Update:  I’ve learned from lawyer friends that the principle that a phrase like “in the year” is understood to modify the thing it’s close to, not some other clause floating elsewhere across the sentence, has a name:  it is “the rule of the last antecedent.”

 

 

 

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Landlord rights and Wisconsin home rule follies

The era of small government remains over in Wisconsin, as the state legislature continues to chew away at municipal self-governance.  This time:  cities are prohibited from requiring regular inspections of rental properties.

Just to remind you again what the Wisconsin Constitution says on this point:

Cities and villages organized pursuant to state law may determine their local affairs and government, subject only to this constitution and to such enactments of the legislature of statewide concern as with uniformity shall affect every city or every village.

Over the years, the state has accorded to itself the power to declare just about anything a city might do “of statewide concern,” rendering the Home Rule Amendment essentially null.  The statewide effect of Beloit requiring landlords to subject their rental properties to safety inspections every once in a while seems pretty minor to me.  I guess that’s why I’m not on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

And yes, I get that there’s lots of interpretation of the Commerce Clause that runs roughly along the same lines.  And yes, I get that a strong interpretation of home rule would keep states from invalidating discriminatory municipal ordinances unless they ran afoul of federal law.  But these judges say they’re pure custodians of the Constitutional text.  It gets up my nose when they act as if it doesn’t exist.

Good piece about the erosion of home rule from the League of Wisconsin Municipalities.

Previous blog post where I complain at length about previous SC-WI home rule jurisprudence.

 

 

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“Worst of the worst maps”: a factual mistake in Gill v. Whitford

The oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, the Wisconsin gerrymandering case, are now a month behind us.  But there’s a factual error in the state’s case, and I don’t want to let it be forgotten.  Thanks to Mira Bernstein for pointing this issue out to me.

Misha Tseytlin, Wisconsin’s solicitor general, was one of two lawyers arguing that the state’s Republican-drawn legislative boundaries should be allowed to stand.  Tseytlin argued that the metrics that flagged Wisconsin’s maps as drastically skewed in the GOP’s favor were unreliable:

And I think the easiest way to see this is to take a look at a chart that plaintiff’s own expert created, and that’s available on Supplemental Appendix 235. This is plain — plaintiff’s expert studied maps from 30 years, and he identified the 17 worst of the worst maps. What is so striking about that list of 17 is that 10 were neutral draws.  There were court-drawn maps, commission-drawn maps, bipartisan drawn maps, including the immediately prior Wisconsin drawn map.

That’s a strong claim, which jumped out at me when I read the transcripts–10 of the 17 very worst maps, according to the metrics, were drawn by neutral parties!  That really makes it sound like whatever those metrics are measuring, it’s not partisan gerrymandering.

But the claim isn’t true.

(To be clear, I believe Tseytlin made a mistake here, not a deliberate misrepresentation.)

The table he’s referring to is on p.55 of this paper by Simon Jackman, described as follows:

Of these, 17 plans are utterly unambiguous with respect to the sign of the efficiency gap estimates recorded over the life of the plan:

Let me unpack what Jackman’s saying here.  These are the 17 maps where we can be sure the efficiency gap favored the same party, three elections in a row.  You might ask: why wouldn’t we be sure about which side the map favors?  Isn’t the efficiency gap something we can compute precisely?  Not exactly.  The basic efficiency gap formula assumes both parties are running candidates in every district.  If there’s an uncontested race, you have to make your best estimate for what the candidate’s vote shares would have been if there had been candidates of both parties.  So you have an estimate for the efficiency gap, but also some uncertainty.  The more uncontested races, the more uncertain you are about the efficiency gap.

So the maps on this list aren’t the 17 “worst of the worst maps.”  They’re not the ones with the highest efficiency gaps, not the ones most badly gerrymandered by any measure.  They’re the ones in states with so few uncontested races that we can be essentially certain the efficiency gap favored the same party three years running.

Tseytlin’s argument is supposed to make you think that big efficiency gaps are as likely to come from neutral maps as partisan ones.  But that’s not true.  Maps drawn by Democratic legislatures have average efficiency gap favoring Democrats; those by GOP on average favor the GOP; neutral maps are in between, and have smaller efficiency gaps overall.

That’s from p.35 of another Jackman paper.  Note the big change after 2010.  It wasn’t always the case that partisan legislators automatically thumbed the scales strongly in their favor when drawing the maps.  But these days, it kind of is.  Is that because partisanship is worse now?  Or because cheaper, faster computation makes it easier for one-party legislatures to do what they always would have done, if they could?  I can’t say for sure.

Efficiency gap isn’t a perfect measure, and neither side in this case is arguing it should be the single or final arbiter of unconstitutional gerrymandering.  But the idea that efficiency gap flags neutral maps as often as partisan maps is just wrong, and it shouldn’t have been part of the state’s argument before the court.

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Driftless Father’s Day

This Father’s Day I found that, by some kind of unanticipated-gap-in-the-Red-Sea-level miracle, neither of my children had any events scheduled, so I gave myself a present and did something I’d been meaning to do for a year; take them to Dubuque.

It’s not far from Madison.  You drive southwest through the Driftless Zone, where the glaciers somehow looped around and missed a spot while they were grinding the rest of the Midwest flat.

At the exit to Platteville there was a sign for a “Mining Museum.”  We had about six seconds to decide whether we all wanted to go to a mining museum but that was plenty of time because obviously we all totally wanted to go to a mining museum.  And it was great!  Almost the platonic ideal of a small-town museum.  Our guide took us down into the old lead mine from the 1850s, now with electric lights and a lot of mannequins caught in the act of blasting holes in the rock.  (One of the mannequins was black; our guide told us that there were African-American miners in southwestern Wisconsin, but not that some of them were enslaved.)

This museum did a great job of conveying the working conditions of those miners; ankle-deep in water, darkness broken only by the candle wired to the front of their hat, the hammers on the rock so loud you couldn’t talk, and had to communicate by hand signals.  Riding up and down to the surface with one leg in the bucket and one leg out so more men could fit in one load, just hoping the bucket didn’t swing wrong and crush your leg against the rock wall.  There’s nothing like an industrial museum to remind you that everything you buy in a store has hours of difficult, dangerous labor built into it.  But it was also labor people traveled miles to get the chance to do!

Only twenty miles further to the Mississippi, my daughter’s first time seeing the river, and across it Dubuque.  Which has a pretty great Op-Art flag:

 

 

Our main goal was the National Mississippi River Museum; slick where the Platteville museum was homespun, up-to-date where the Plateville Museum was old-fashioned.  The kids really liked both.  I wanted fewer interactive screens, more actual weird river creatures.

The museum is on the Riverwalk; Dubuque, like just about every city on a body of water, is reinventing its shoreline as a tourist hub.  Every harbor a Harborplace.  OK, I snark, but it was a lovely walk; lots of handsome bridges in view, all different, an old-timey band playing in the gazebo, Illinois and Wisconsin and Iowa invisibly meeting across the water….

Only disappointment of the afternoon; the famous funicular railway was closed.  Maybe they could have posted that on their website or something.  But in a way it’s good they didn’t; if I’d known it was closed, I probably would have decided to put off the trip, and who knows if we’d ever have gone?

On the way back we stopped in Dickeyville to get gas but missed the Dickeyville Grotto; would have stopped there for sure if I’d known about it.  Dinner in Dodgeville at Culver’s, the Midwest’s superior version of In-N-Out, where I got my free Father’s Day turtle.   I like cheese curds and brats as much as the next guy, but I gotta say, I think the turtle is my favorite of the many foods I’d never heard of before I moved to Wisconsin.

 

 

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Fitchburg facts

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Such shall not become the degradation of Wisconsin

I’ve lived in Wisconsin for more than a decade and had never heard of Joshua Glover.  That’s not as it should be!

Glover was a slave who escaped Missouri in 1852 and settled in Racine, a free man.  He found a job and settled down into a new life.  Two years later, his old master found out where he was, and, licensed by the Fugitive Slave Act, came north to claim his property.  The U.S. marshals seized Glover and locked him in the Milwaukee courthouse. (Cathedral Square Park is where that courthouse stood.)   A Wisconsin court issued a writ holding the Fugitive Slave Law unconstitutional, and demanding that Glover be given a trial, but the federal officers refused to comply.  So Sherman Booth, an abolitionist newspaperman from Waukesha, gathered a mob and broke Glover out.  Eventually he made it to Canada via the Underground Railroad.

Booth spent years tangled in court, thanks to his role in the prison break.  Wisconsin, thrilled by its defiance of the hated law, bloomed with abolitionist fervency.  Judge Abram Daniel Smith declared that Wisconsin, a sovereign state, would never accept federal interference within its borders:

“They will never consent that a slave-owner, his agent, or an officer of the United States, armed with process to arrest a fugitive from service, is clothed with entire immunity from state authority; to commit whatever crime or outrage against the laws of the state; that their own high prerogative writ of habeas corpus shall be annulled, their authority defied, their officers resisted, the process of their own courts contemned, their territory invaded by federal force, the houses of their citizens searched, the sanctuary or their homes invaded, their streets and public places made the scenes of tumultuous and armed violence, and state sovereignty succumb–paralyzed and aghast–before the process of an officer unknown to the constitution and irresponsible to its sanctions. At least, such shall not become the degradation of Wisconsin, without meeting as stern remonstrance and resistance as I may be able to interpose, so long as her people impose upon me the duty of guarding their rights and liberties, and maintaining the dignity and sovereignty of their state.”

The sentiment, of course, was not so different from that the Southern states would use a few years later to justify their right to buy and sell human beings.  By the end of the 1850s, Wisconsin’s governor Alexander Randall would threaten to secede from the Union should slavery not be abolished.

When Booth was arrested by federal marshals in 1860, state assemblyman Benjamin Hunkins of New Berlin went even further, introducing a bill declaring war on the United States in protest.  The speaker of the assembly declared the bill unconstitutional and no vote was taken.  (This was actually the second time Hunkins tried to declare war on the federal government; as a member of the Wisconsin territorial assembly in 1844, he became so outraged over the awarding of the Upper Peninsula to Michigan that he introduced an amendment declaring war on Great Britain, Illinois, Michigan, and the United States!)

Milwaukee has both a Booth Street and a Glover Avenue; and they cross.

Madison has a Randall Street (and a Randall School, and Camp Randall Stadium) but no Glover Street and no Booth Street.  Should it?

 

 

 

 

 

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court gets home rule wrong and right

The Supreme Court made a decision in the Milwaukee police officer residency requirement case I wrote about, peevishly and at length, earlier this year.  Chief Justice Michael Gableman is still claiming the home rule amendment says something it doesn’t say; whether he’s confused or cynical I can’t say.

the home rule amendment gives cities and villages the ability “to determine their local affairs and government, subject only to this constitution and to such enactments of the legislature of statewide concern as with uniformity shall affect every city or every village.”  In other words, a city or village may, under its home rule authority, create a law that deals with its local affairs, but the Legislature has the power to statutorily override the city’s or village’s law if the state statute touches upon a matter of statewide concern or if the state statute uniformly affects every city or village. See Madison
Teachers, 358 Wis. 2d 1, ¶101.

“In other words,” phooey.  The amendment says a state enactment has to be of statewide concern and uniform in its effect.  Gableman turns the “and” into an “or,” giving the state much greater leeway to bend cities to its will.  The citation, by the way, is to his own opinion in the Act 10 case, where he’s wrong for the same reason.

But here’s the good news.  Rebecca Bradley, the newest justice, wrote a blistering concurrence (scroll to paragraph 52 of the opinion) which gets the amendment right.  She agrees with the majority that the state has constitutional authority to block Milwaukee’s residency requirement.  But the majority’s means of reaching that conclusion is wrong.  Bradley explains: by the home rule amendment’s plain text and by what its drafters said at the time of its composition, it is and, not or; for a state law to override a city law, it has to involve a matter of statewide concern and apply uniformly to all muncipalities.  Here’s Daniel Hoan, mayor of Milwaukee, and one of the main authors of the home rule amendment:

We submit that this wording is not ambiguous as other constitutional Home Rule amendments may be. It does not say——subject to state laws, subject to state laws of state-wide concern, or subject to laws uniformly affecting cities, but it does say——subject only to such state laws as are therein defined, and these laws must meet two tests: First——do they involve a subject of statewide concern, and second——do they with uniformity affect every city or village?

Bradley concedes that decades of Supreme Court precedent interpret the amendment wrongly.  So screw the precedent, she writes!  OK, she doesn’t actually write that.  But words to that effect.

I know I crap on Scalia-style originalism a lot, partly because I think it’s often a put-on.  But this is the real thing.

 

 

 

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Home rule in Wisconsin: the or and the and

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is hearing arguments about a residency requirement for employees of the city of Milwaukee.  Milwaukee has a law requiring city employees to live within Milwaukee’s boundaries.  The state legislature passed a law forbidding cities from making or enforcing such laws.  Last summer, the 1st District Court of Appeals found that law in violation of the Home Rule Amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution.  The constitutional question is:  when can state lawmakers overrule the legislative decisions of cities and villages?

You might think this would be clear.  On November 4, 1924, voters in Wisconsin overwhelmingly approved the Home Rule Amendment, which added to the state Constitution:

Cities and villages organized pursuant to state law may determine their local affairs and government, subject only to this constitution and to such enactments of the legislature of statewide concern as with uniformity shall affect every city or every village. The method of such determination shall be prescribed by the legislature.

It turns out it hasn’t been so simple, in practice, to figure out what those 51 words mean.  In a recent high-profile case, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld Act 10, Governor Walker’s signature legislation; among other things, the law forbade Milwaukee from contributing to its employees’ pension funds.  The plaintiffs argued that this provision violated home rule.  Michael Gableman, writing for the court majority, said it was fine.

This raises questions.  First of all:  if a state law needs to affect every city uniformly in order to supersede local government, how can it be OK to specifically target Milwaukee’s pension fund?  Here the exact wording of 62.623 is critical.  The law doesn’t mention Milwaukee:  it applies to “any employee retirement system of a 1st class city.”   The “uniformity” requirement in the Home Rule amendment has generally been understood very liberally, allowing laws which affect cities in different size classes differently as long as the application within each class is uniform.

To construe the amendment as meaning that every act of the Legislature relating to cities is subject to a charter ordinance unless the act of the Legislature affected with uniformity every city from the smallest to the greatest, practically destroys legislative control over municipal affairs, assuming that laws could be drawn which would meet the requirements of the amendment so construed.

That’s from Van Gilder v. City of Madison (1936), one of the first Wisconsin Supreme Court cases to wrestle with the limits of home rule.  I will have more to say about Chief Justice Marvin Rosenberry’s decision in that case, some of it pretty salty.  But for now let’s stick to the point at hand.  The law can be argued to pass the “uniformity” test because it applies equally to all cities of the first class.  There is only one city of the first class in Wisconsin, and there has only ever been one city of the first class in Wisconsin, and it’s Milwaukee.

That’s the argument the Walker administration made in defense of the law.  But the court’s upholding the law rejects that defense, and the uniformity clause as a whole, as irrelevant the question before it.

In sum, our home rule case law instructs us that, when reviewing a legislative enactment under the home rule amendment, we apply a two-step analysis.  First, as a threshold matter, the court determines whether the statute concerns a matter of primarily statewide or primarily local concern.  If the statute concerns a matter of primarily statewide interest, the home rule amendment is not implicated and our analysis ends.  If, however, the statute concerns a matter of primarily local affairs, the reviewing court then examines whether the statute satisfies the uniformity requirement.  If the statute does not, it violates the home rule amendment.

Thus:

no merit exists in the plaintiffs’ contention that the legislative enactment at issue in a home rule challenge must be a matter of statewide concern and uniformly applied statewide to withstand constitutional scrutiny.

Now this is weird, right?  Because what’s described and rejected as “the plaintiff’s contention” is what the constitution says.  Gableman replaces the Constitution’s and with an or:  in his analysis, a state law supersedes local powers if it’s either of statewide concern or applied uniformly to all cities.

Is this an act of wanton judicial activism?  Well, not exactly.  The phrase “as home rule case law instructs us” is important here.  The opinion marshals a long line of precedents showing that the Home Rule amendment has typically been read as an or, not an and.  It goes all the way back to Rosenberry’s opinion in Van Gilder v. City of Madison; and the reason there’s such a long list is that all those other cases rely on Van Gilder, which has become the foundation of Wisconsin’s theory of home rule.

Which brings us to the main point.  I’m not a legal scholar, but what the hell, this is blogging, I get to have an opinion, and here’s mine:  Van Gilder v. City of Madison was wrongly decided and has been screwing up home rule jurisprudence for 80 years.

Rosenberry’s first go at explaining home rule goes like this:

The home–rule amendment certainly confers upon cities plenary powers to deal with local affairs and government subject to the limitations contained in the amendment itself and other provisions of the Constitution. The powers of municipalities are subject to the limitation that the municipality cannot by its charter deal with matters which
are of state–wide concern and its power to enact an organic law dealing with local affairs and government is subject to such acts of the Legislature relating thereto as are of state–wide concern and affect with uniformity all cities.

The “and” between statewide concern and uniformity is clear here.  But Rosenberry also says that municipalities simply have no power to address matters of statewide concern:  its powers, he says, are restricted to “local affairs and government” as distinct from matters of statewide concern.  So what cases are the second clause (“its power to enact an organic law….”) referring to?  Only those matters which are not of statewide concern, but which are affected by state laws which are of statewide concern.  Rosenberry gives no examples of such a situation, nor can I really imagine one, so I don’t think that’s really the conclusion he means to draw.  Later in the opinion, he settles more clearly on the policy adopted by Gableman in Madison Teachers Inc. v. Walker:

when the Legislature deals with local affairs as distinguished from
matters which are primarily of state–wide concern, it can only do so effectually by an act which affects with uniformity every city. It is true that this leaves a rather narrow field in which the home–rule amendment operates freed from legislative restriction, but there is no middle ground.

and

the limitation contained in the section upon the power of the Legislature is a limitation upon its power to deal with the local affairs and government of a city or village. Care must be taken to distinguish between the power of the Legislature to deal with local affairs and its power to deal with matters primarily of state–wide concern. When the Legislature deals with local affairs and government of a city, if its act is not to be subordinate to a charter ordinance, the act must be one which affects with uniformity every city. If in dealing with the local affairs of a city the Legislature classifies cities so that the act does not apply with uniformity to every city, that act is subordinate to a charter ordinance relating to the same matter. A charter ordinance of a city is not subject to an act of the Legislature dealing with local affairs unless the act affects with uniformity every city. State ex rel. Sleeman v. Baxter, supra. When the Legislature deals with matters which are primarily matters of state–wide concern, it may deal with them free from any restriction contained in the home rule amendment.

Now the ground has shifted.  In Rosenberry’s reading, when the home rule amendment refers to “local affairs and government” it specifically intends to exclude any “matters of statewide concern.”  I can accept this as a reading of those four words, but not as a reading of the whole sentence. If Roseberry is correct, then the phrase “of statewide concern” is never active in the amendment:  a local affair is, by definition, not a matter of statewide concern.  I think when your interpretation of a constitutional passage means that part of the text never applies, you need to think twice about your interpretation.

What’s more, Rosenberry holds that the state has the power to override local officials on purely local matters, of no statewide concern whatsoever, as long as it does so uniformly.  If that is so, what does he think the words “of statewide concern” are doing in the Home Rule amendment at all?

To me, the amendment has a pretty plain meaning.  Something like a residency requirement for city employees or a fiscal decision about a city pension plan is plainly a local affair.  It may also be a matter of statewide concern.  The state legislature can enact a law overriding local legislation if the matter is of statewide concern and the law in question applies uniformly to all cities.  I think Rosenberry just plain got this wrong in Van Gilder and it’s been wrong ever since.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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