Emergency Powers and the Wisconsin Constitution

This morning I came across an interesting resolution, introduced today, that proposes to make a significant change to the Wisconsin constitution.  Since Assembly Joint Resolution 59 would amend the state constitution, it requires adoption by both the State Senate and Assembly twice, in two successive sessions, and then adoption by public vote, as a referendum.  So, it’s not going into effect anytime soon.

That’s a good thing because in it’s current form, AJR 59 needs some serious attention.   Currently, the state constitution provides for the continuity of government in the case of an emergency “resulting from enemy action in the form of an attack.”  The legislature is permitted to “provide for the prompt and temporary succession to the powers and duties of public officers…and adopt such other measures as may be necessary and proper for obtaining the objectives of this section.”

AJR59 would remove the phrase defining “emergency” as “resulting from enemy action in the form of an attack,” leaving “emergency” entirely undefined.  If “emergency” and “other measures as may be necessary” are not defined, then just what exactly would justify a move by the legislature to institute some form of martial law?  How about a ridiculous Dept. of Homeland Security memo claiming conservatives and returning military veterans constitute some sort of ambiguous threat to the United States?  That may sound a little extreme (pardon the pun), but, hey; if there’s no definition of “emergency” then who’s to stop a legislature from applying it at will?

Currently, the bill is sitting in the Assembly State Affairs and Homeland Security committee. It’s very likely (I hope) that this resolution will be either significantly amended or dropped entirely before it gets out of committee (although it might be a good idea to add “major, statewide natural catastrophe” to the definition of emergency).

I wonder, would the reckless spending of taxpayer dollars by an irresponsible legislature constitute an emergency?


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