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Overstepping Judge Overruled

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — The Wisconsin Supreme Court this week found Gov. Tony Evers overstepped his authority in issuing an order that postponed Wisconsin’s April 7 election. Not long after, the highest court in the land found that a federal district judge also exceeded his power in effectively rewriting state election law.

Judge William Conley earlier this month ruled that Wisconsin’s in-person election must go on as scheduled, but absentee voting would be extended until April 13.

That was a bridge too far for the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in an emergency ruling Monday evening, in part said Conley got it wrong.

“Extending the date by which ballots may be cast by voters — not just received by by the municipal clerks but cast by voters — for an additional six days after the scheduled election day fundamentally alters the nature of the election,” the court’s 5-4 ruling states. The liberal minority dissented.

As the high court points out, the plaintiffs — the city of Green Bay — didn’t even ask for such relief in their motion for a preliminary injunction.

In his decision, Conley offered his advice to the state of Wisconsin, writing that it was “ill-advised” to hold the in-person election because of the threat of the COVID-19 outbreak. He doubted the “likelihood of a successful election.”

But that’s really not the judge’s concern. Whether Conley or any of the courts liked or disliked Wisconsin’s decision to go ahead with the election is outside the third branch’s authority. The Supreme Court made clear that it was not in a position to decide the “wisdom” of Wisconsin’s decision, only to rule on a “narrow, technical question” of law.

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