PORT WASHINGTON - A Wisconsin judge on Monday found the state's bipartisan elections commission to be in contempt and ordered it to immediately begin removing up to 209,000 names from the state's voter rolls or face fines for each day it doesn't.
Hours later, a divided Wisconsin Supreme Court declined a request from a conservative law firm to immediately hear the case, meaning that the legal battle will now shift to a lower state appeals court and likely not be resolved before the November presidential election.
The Supreme Court's decision not to get involved now was a win for liberals, who will now attempt to persuade a lower appeals court to put the original ruling on hold while the legal fight continues. The appeals court had refused to act while the Supreme Court was considering what to do.
The case is being closely watched, as Wisconsin is a battleground state that President Donald Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016. Democrats are fighting the lawsuit, saying the purge would unfairly affect their voters. Republicans say they merely want to ensure that people who have moved are not able to vote from their old addresses.
The conservative-controlled Supreme Court deadlocked 3-3 on whether to take the case, which would have resulted in a quicker resolution. Newly elected conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn sided with two liberal justices in declining to immediately hear the case. The deadlock was possible because conservative Justice Dan Kelly, who is up for election in April, recused himself given that voters at risk of being removed would be casting ballots in his race.
By not taking the case now, "this court denies justice to the people of Wisconsin who deserve a prompt resolution of a dispute that affects important statewide and national elections this year," the three dissenting conservative justices wrote.
They said the court was disregarding its duty by not taking the case now, especially with elections looming in a month.
"The case is unquestionably worthy of our prompt attention," the justices wrote.
Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney had no comment. Rick Esenberg, president of the conservative law firm the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which brought the original lawsuit, said the decision not to take the case now "tells us little" about how the court may rule later.
There are a number of elections coming soon, including a February primary for Kelly's Supreme Court seat and a host of local offices, followed by the April general election which is also the presidential primary.
Those bringing the lawsuit argue that the state elections commission broke the law when it did not remove voters from the rolls who did not respond within 30 days to a mailing in October indicating they may have moved.
The commission wanted to wait until after the November 2020 presidential election before removing anyone because of inaccuracies with a previous round of data identifying voters who had potentially moved. Even if a voter has their registration deactivated, they can register again later or on Election Day when they show up at the polls, assuming they have the required documentation.
Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy last month sided with conservatives who filed the lawsuit and ordered that the voters have their registrations deactivated. When the elections commission didn't immediately act to remove the voters, Malloy on Monday found it and three Democratic commissioners who voted against moving ahead with the purge in contempt.
"I cannot be clearer on this. They need to follow the order," Malloy said. He was appointed to the bench in 2002 by then-Gov. Scott McCallum, a Republican, and he has won election three times since then.
The commissioners each face a $250 fine for every day they don't comply. The commission as a whole faces $50 fines every day the purge doesn't happen. Three Republican commissioners who pushed for proceeding with deactivating the voters would face no penalties.
The commission's next meeting is Tuesday, hours before Trump was due to hold a rally in Milwaukee.
Ann Jacobs, one of the three Democratic commissioners, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that she believes the judge's initial findings were incorrect and that she does not want to begin taking people off the rolls.
The affected voters come more heavily from Democratic areas of Wisconsin, including Milwaukee and cities with college campuses. Democrats fear forcing voters whose registration was nullified to re-register would create a burden on them and hurt turnout. Republicans argue that removing the voters would ensure that the rolls are not full of people who shouldn't be voting.
The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin also filed a federal lawsuit to stop the purge.
Dozens of people â€" some with tape over their mouths â€" rallied outside the courthouse before Monday's hearing to protest the voter registration deactivation. Organizers said the purge would unfairly affect voters of color. The Rev. Greg Lewis, who heads the get-out-the-vote group Souls to the Polls Milwaukee, said he worried that the legal fight would lead to confusion that causes some people to give up on trying to vote, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
"This is not checkers. It's chess, and the people who are doing this understand that the frustration will cause a lot of people not to even want to vote," he said.
LA CROSSE - The Diocese of La Crosse has released the names of 25 clergy men with substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse made against them.
At least 16 of the men on the list face multiple allegations of child sex abuse.
Of the 25 men on the list, 18 have died. All of the men have been taken out of public ministry.
The list did not specify when or where the alleged abuse took place.
Eight of the men on the list have worked in Eau Claire including Bruce Ball (Immaculate Conception-Regis High School), Thomas Dempsey (Sacred Heart of Jesus-Sacred Heart Hospital), James Ennis (Sacred Heart of Jesus), James Finucan (St. James the Greater), James E. Mason (Immaculate Conception-Regis High School, Newman Center-Regis High School), James Stauber (St. Patrick Jr. High School-Regis High School), Raymond J. Wagner (St. Patrick) and Daniel Budzynski (Newman Parish).
Seven of the men have worked in Chippewa Falls including Eugene Comiskey (Holy Ghost), Thomas Dempsey (Northern Colony and Training School), Richard Herrmann (St. Charles Borromeo-McDonnel High School), William Hertzenberg (Notre Dame), James E. Mason (McDonnel High School), Albert Sonnberger (Notre Dame, St. Charles Borromeo) and Francis Zimmerer (St. Joseph's Hospital).
EAGLE RIVER - Professional snowmobilers took to the racetrack in Eagle River this weekend. However, they weren't the only ones riding on some top-of-the line sleds.
Arctic Cat was at the derby offering demo rides on their 2021 models. People got a chance to try out the different machines, and put money down on a model of their choice.
Sales director Joe Klosterman said it's important for people to try before they buy.
"We do it to give an experience to the consumer," said Klosterman. "You wouldn't buy a car without driving it. We've also got a new model this year that I think is going to bring a lot of new people into the industry."
Demo workers took guests out on a 10-mile loop to experience some of the best trails in the Northwoods. Those trails featured curbs, some fresh powder, and lots of bumps to test the machines' suspension.
Klosterman said Arctic Cat sold lots of sleds over the weekend thanks to the promotion.
OSHKOSH, WIS. (AP) - A Wisconsin teenager who was shot and wounded when he stabbed a school resource officer has been ordered to stand trial.
Grant Fuhrman, 17, is charged as an adult with attempted first-degree intentional homicide in the Dec. 3 attack at Oshkosh West High School.
Fuhrman is accused of stabbing Mike Wissink multiple times with a barbecue fork. Court documents say the officer was unable to reach his stun gun so he shot Fuhrman twice. Neither was seriously injured.
The school was evacuated and classes were cancelled for two days.
IRON COUNTY - One person died in a snowmobiling incident in Iron County early Sunday morning. The victim was identified as a 47-year-old female.
According to a press release by the Iron County Sheriff's Department, dispatch received a call at 1:52 a.m. reporting a snowmobile crashed on Trail 17 just outside Hurley and the operator was unresponsive.
First responders arrived at 2:04 a.m. and began taking life saving measures. The driver was then transported by rescue sled to Beacon ambulance and then to Aspirus GVH in Ironwood, MI.
After continued life-saving measures, the 47-year-old female was pronounced dead at Aspirus Hospital.
MADISON - Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced Sunday he wants state lawmakers to pass a package of bills aimed at curbing youth vaping and educating the public about vaping's potential dangers.
The bills Evers, a Democrat, is requesting would ban vaping and vapor products on K-12 campuses and expand the definition of public health emergencies. Another bill would fund a public health campaign to address youth vaping in the state and a fourth proposal would expand the enforcement capacity of the Departments of Revenue and Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection to prevent vaping products from being sold to minors.
The governor's office outlined his proposals in a press release Sunday.
"As a parent, grandparent, and lifelong educator, I am deeply concerned about the health and well-being of our kids," Evers said in a statement. "Vaping is a serious public health epidemic and it is time to take action."
The governor's office said vaping products pose serious health risks to young users because the nicotine contained in e-cigarettes can harm parts of the brain that control attention and learning.
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