Wisconsin voter purge ruling appealed to state Supreme Court

A conservative law firm on Tuesday asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reverse a lower court's order putting on hold a ruling that would have forced the removal of up to 209,000 people from the state's voter rolls.

Attorneys for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty asked the state Supreme Court to overturn the state appeals court's Jan. 14 decision that placed the original ruling on hold. It also asked the high court to undo the stay of a contempt order against the state Elections Commission that the lower court had issued after the commission failed to proceed with the voter purge.

The state Supreme Court on Jan. 13 declined to take the case and bypass the state appeals court. Less than 24 hours later, the appeals court issued its orders that effectively hit the pause button on the case and halted any immediate change to the state's voter registration rolls.

But the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty argued on Tuesday that the state Supreme Court should reverse the appeals court orders, arguing that the appeals court offered no rationale for its action. The three judges on the appeals court panel said they would produce a follow-up order later that explained their reasoning, but that they wanted to act quickly given the contempt order and the commission's meeting the day after the contempt order was issued.

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"The Court of Appeals is required to provide some explanation when issuing a stay," said Rick Esenberg, president of the law firm bringing the case. "To date, the Court of Appeals has provided nothing. Whatever reasoning may follow, we're asking the Supreme Court to consider whether a stay is warranted at all."

The case has gotten a lot of attention because Wisconsin is among a group of swing states being targeted by Democrats and President Donald Trump this year. Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by fewer than 23,000 votes, putting even more of a focus on every voter in the state.

The voter purge lawsuit argued 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 found while previously attempting to identify voters who may have moved.

There are a number of elections coming soon, including a February primary for a state Supreme Court seat, a primary in the special election to fill the 7th Congressional District seat and races for a host of local offices. Wisconsin's presidential primary is April 7.