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Gov. Walker Says Wisconsin Will Recognize June Same-Sex Weddings

By Jason Stein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MADISON, Wis. — The roughly 500 same-sex couples who married in June will have their partnerships recognized by the state of Wisconsin and some couples will be able to amend past tax returns, Gov. Scott Walker’s administration ordered Monday.
The Republican governor, an opponent of same-sex marriage, made his order after the U.S. Supreme Court last week rejected Wisconsin’s appeal to reinstate its gay marriage ban.
Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said his administration would now treat same-sex and opposite-sex couples the same for issuing wedding licenses and “determining the rights, protections, obligations, or benefits of marriage.”
“Per the guidance from the Department of Justice, state agencies will examine and update forms, manuals, and other documents consistent with the ruling, and the state will be treating licenses issued in June as valid marriage licenses,” Patrick said.
Larry Dupuis, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, called the order “great news” and said it should help to wrap up litigation over gay marriage. The ACLU represents same-sex couples who brought the original lawsuit against the state for recognition of the right to marry as well as a follow-up lawsuit regarding several hundred couples who didn’t have their June marriages recognized.
Kiersten Bloechl-Karlsen, one of the plaintiffs in the follow-up lawsuit, praised the order.
“In our case, I’ve been a mother to our little girl since the day she was born but was unable to sign her birth certificate. We can now pursue a second parent adoption so that our right as a family to remain legally connected to each other, no matter what happens, is not compromised,” she said in a statement.
In a question and answer page on its web page, the state Department of Revenue said that going forward same-sex newlyweds will need to file their taxes as married filing jointly or separately, just as other couples do.
Couples also will be available to file amended tax returns for 2013 and prior years where applicable, according to the agency. That would allow couples to go as far back as amending tax returns filed for the 2010 tax year in April 2011.
But a couple would have had to have been lawfully married during the year they are amending the return, which means they would have had to have been married in another state that recognized same-sex marriage at the time.
The state revenue department clarified that it also is ending the practice of treating same-sex couples differently with respect to certain other questions, such as the taxation of a partner’s health benefits.
Lawsuits challenging state same-sex marriage bans accelerated after the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the national government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
Amid that national wave of litigation, eight same-sex couples from the state sued in February to overturn the amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution banning gay marriage and civil unions.
U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb in Madison agreed with them in June and struck down the ban but a week later stayed her decision to prevent couples from marrying while state officials pursued their appeal.
About 500 couples in Wisconsin married between June 6 and 13 — after Crabb’s initial ruling but before she issued a stay that halted marriages during the appeals process.
A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld Crabb’s ruling striking down same-sex marriages as unconstitutional. Van Hollen appealed a month ago to the Supreme Court, which rejected his petition last week.
While the matter remained on appeal, Van Hollen and Walker’s administration did not recognize those marriages held in June. In response, four of those couples sued last month for that state recognition.
Dupuis said Walker’s latest action should help resolve the latest lawsuit.
“We still plan to seek an enforceable agreement or judgment, so we’ll have a remedy if they are not good to their word. But I think this does mean things should wind down quickly,” he said.
Also Monday, Dupuis clarified a past statement on what happens to same-sex couples in Wisconsin who were previously registered with the state as domestic partners.
If those couples marry, their domestic partnership would automatically dissolve under state law, Dupuis said Monday. Previously, Dupuis said he believed domestic partners also could marry without the partnership ending.

Photo via Susan Melkisethian via Flickr

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U.S. Supreme Court Is Asked To Block Wisconsin’s Voter ID Law

By Jason Stein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MILWAUKEE — Opponents of Wisconsin’s photo ID requirement for voters took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, seeking an emergency halt to the state’s implementation of the law before the Nov. 4 election.

In other action Thursday, the nation’s highest court passed over its first opportunity to take action on gay marriage cases from Wisconsin and other states, leaving that historic question for later in its term.

In their petition, voter ID opponents told the Supreme Court that there’s not enough time to properly implement the law before the tight election between GOP Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke that is five weeks away.

On Sept. 12, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled that the law could be put in place for the election while a lawsuit over the requirement grinds on, leaving state officials and local election clerks sprinting to put the law in place.

“Thousands of Wisconsin voters stand to be disenfranchised by this law going into effect so close to the election. Hundreds of absentee ballots have already been cast, and the appeals court’s order is fueling voter confusion and election chaos. Eleventh-hour changes in election rules have traditionally been disfavored precisely because the risk of disruption is simply too high,” said Dale Ho, director of the Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the voters suing the state.

The request was directed at Justice Elena Kagan, the member of the nine-person Supreme Court who is responsible for handling such petitions from the 7th Circuit region, which includes Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

Kagan, an appointee of President Barack Obama, is likely open to the arguments of the voter ID opponents and has the ability to take action on their appeal on her own. But legal experts said it’s unlikely that Kagan would act without consulting her colleagues in a case such as this one.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who is defending the law in court, said that blocking voter ID anew would sow further confusion and bring about the effect that the law’s opponents want to avoid.

“This is surprising and disappointing given the ACLU’s previously stated concern over changing the law so close to an election. Apparently, they’ve abandoned that view and are no longer concerned about voter confusion,” Van Hollen said.

Laurel Patrick, a spokeswoman for GOP Gov. Scott Walker, had no immediate comment on the latest news but last Friday said that voter ID was a “common-sense reform” that gave people more confidence in elections.

“These reforms make it easy to vote but harder to cheat,” Patrick said.

The law requires voters to show certain government-issued photo IDs, such as a driver’s license, to vote. The law was also upheld by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a pair of rulings in August.

Last week, opponents of Wisconsin’s voter ID law fell just short of getting the full 7th Circuit to reconsider their recent loss in the case before a panel of three judges from that appellate court.

Those suing over the law asked the full 10-member court to reverse that decision and came just one vote shy of getting all 10 judges to hold a hearing on the case. The members of the court split 5-5 on whether to hold the hearing, which means that the request did not get a majority of votes and failed as a result.

The five 7th Circuit judges who voted to rehear the case included two judges appointed by Republicans and three appointed by Democrats. They were: Diane P. Wood and Ann Claire Williams, both appointed by President Bill Clinton; Richard A. Posner, appointed by President Ronald Reagan; Ilana Diamond Rovner, appointed by President George H.W. Bush; and David F. Hamilton, appointed by President Barack Obama.

In the arguments released Wednesday, Williams wrote on behalf of that group of five judges that their court should not have acted so soon before Wisconsin’s elections.

“Our court should not accept, as the state is willing to do, the disenfranchisement of up to 10 percent of Wisconsin’s registered voters. We certainly should not do so when there is not evidence in Wisconsin whatsoever of the type of fraud the law is designed to prevent against,” Williams wrote.

All five who declined to take the case were appointed by Republicans, and three of them sat on the panel that first decided the case. The five were: Joel M. Flaum, Frank H. Easterbrook and Michael S. Kanne, all of whom were appointed by Reagan; and Diane S. Sykes and John Daniel Tinder, who were both appointed by George W. Bush.

That group pointed to past rulings upholding voter ID laws, principally the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Indiana’s law in 2008. In their unsigned opinion, that bloc of five judges acknowledged that the trial court judge in Wisconsin established different facts from those in the Indiana case but signaled that they didn’t believe that this new evidence would outweigh past findings of law.

“Those decisions give Wisconsin a strong prospect of success on appeal. A second important consideration is the public interest in using laws enacted through the democratic process, until the laws’ validity has been finally determined,” the judges wrote.

The original 7th Circuit panel was made up of Easterbrook, Sykes and Tinder. Sykes formerly served on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s voter ID law in 2008, and last month the panel considering the Wisconsin case likewise upheld the law here, calling the Badger State’s voter ID law “materially identical” to Indiana’s.

Clerks in Wisconsin are now contacting voters who have cast their absentee ballots to tell them to provide copies of their IDs. The same message is also being delivered to those who have received absentee ballots but not yet returned them.

Absentee ballots from voters who have not provided IDs will not be counted. More than 11,800 people had requested absentee ballots before the 7th Circuit decision on Sept. 12.

The voter ID law requires people to show a specific type of photo ID to vote _ driver’s licenses, state ID cards, passports, limited types of student IDs, military IDs, naturalization certificates or IDs issued by a tribe based in Wisconsin.

Those who go to the polls without the proper form of ID can cast provisional ballots. If the voters show a poll worker or clerk a copy of their ID by 4 p.m. on the Friday after the election, their provisional ballots will be counted.

At trial, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman in Milwaukee determined about 300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin do not have IDs that qualify for voting. About 70,000 are eligible to vote but not registered.

Attorneys opposed to the ID law said it would be impossible to issue credentials to all those voters between now and Election Day.

They said many of them would not attempt to get IDs because they didn’t know about the ID requirement, couldn’t get time off from work or didn’t have a way to get to a Division of Motor Vehicles service center.

Photo: Matt H. Wade via Wikimedia Commons

Doe Prosecutor: No Determination Whether Wisconsin Gov. Walker Committed Crimes

By Jason Stein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MADISON, Wis. — A prosecutor cautioned Thursday that he hasn’t made a final determination about whether Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and his campaign illegally coordinated fundraising among conservative groups during the recall elections during 2011 and 2012.

In a statement Thursday, an attorney representing special prosecutor Francis Schmitz warned the media and public against jumping to conclusions of guilt based on documents within a once-secret John Doe probe that emerged in a federal lawsuit last week.

Those documents written by prosecutors laid out what they call an extensive “criminal scheme” to bypass state election laws by Walker, his campaign, and two top Republican political operatives — R.J. Johnson and Deborah Jordahl. So far, no one has been charged and the probe has been halted for now by a federal judge.

Walker has denied any wrongdoing.

“While these documents outlined the prosecutor’s legal theory, they did not establish the existence of a crime; rather, they were arguments in support of further investigation to determine if criminal charges against any person or entity are warranted,” Schmitz attorney Randall Crocker wrote in the statement. “Mr. Schmitz has made no conclusions as to whether there is sufficient evidence to charge anyone with a crime. It is wrong for any person to point to this sentence in a legal argument as a finding by the special prosecutor that Governor Walker has engaged in a criminal scheme. It is not such a finding.”

In the statement released Thursday on behalf of Schmitz, his attorney said that “Governor Walker was not a target of the investigation.”
“At no time has he been served with a subpoena,” Crocker wrote of Walker.

However, Crocker’s statement doesn’t address whether Walker’s campaign was a target of the investigation and a subpoena. The Wall Street Journal and later the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel have reported that Walker’s campaign received one of a number of subpoenas in the case and is part of the legal fight challenging them.

Crocker didn’t immediately respond to a question about why he had issued the statement Thursday.

The governor and his close confidants helped raise money and control spending through 12 conservative groups during the recall election campaigns, according to the documents released last week.

The documents released last week include an excerpt from an email in which Walker tells Karl Rove, former top adviser to President George W. Bush, that Johnson would lead the coordination campaign. Johnson also is Walker’s longtime campaign strategist and the chief adviser to Wisconsin Club for Growth, a prominent conservative group.

“Bottom-line: R.J. helps keep in place a team that is wildly successful in Wisconsin. We are running 9 recall elections and it will be like 9 congressional markets in every market in the state (and Twin Cities),” Walker wrote to Rove on May 4, 2011. Rove runs American Crossroads, which backs Republican congressional and presidential candidates.

Beginning in March 2011, there were “open and express discussions” of the need to coordinate the activities of entities like Americans for Prosperity, Wisconsin Club for Growth, the Republican Party of Wisconsin, the Republican State Leadership Committee, and the Republican Governors Association, Schmitz wrote. Conference calls were held between the Walker campaign, the governors association and the business lobbying group Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, he wrote.

The scope of the criminal scheme under investigation “is expansive,” Schmitz wrote in the documents released last week. “It includes criminal violations of multiple elections laws, including violations of Filing a False Campaign Report or Statement and Conspiracy to File a False Campaign Report or Statement.”

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said Thursday that the statement by prosecutors vindicates the governor.

“After the media’s slanderous reporting last week, today’s statement by prosecutors should serve as an opportunity for the media to correct the record and report the real facts of this story,” Evenson said.

Walker said last week that he couldn’t comment directly on his email to Rove but indicated that Johnson will remain with the campaign for the fall election.

After conservatives sued in federal court in Milwaukee alleging the probe violated their First Amendment rights to free expression, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa halted the investigation for now — a ruling under appeal to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. The lawsuit was brought by Wisconsin Club for Growth and one of its directors, Eric O’Keefe.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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