If a voter in Wisconsin sues the state to try and compel the governor to call a special election, they might have a hard time finding precedent for that action. A plaintiff in such a case can make specific arguments about what state law requires a governor to do when a state legislative seat becomes vacant, and perhaps broader constitutional arguments about the right of citizens to elect their representatives. But special-elections lawsuits are hard to find in Wisconsin’s legal history, and similar suits in other states have little to no bearing on how a judge should interpret Wisconsin law. On top of that limitation, federal courts haven’t really given state-level judges much to go on.
At the national level, U.S. Supreme Court justices and federal judges have written many times in rulings about the fundamental right of citizens to vote for their own representatives, but have created very little precedent that applies to the central question of Newton v. Walker: What do Wisconsin’s special-elections laws actually mean?
The case, filed in Dane County Circuit Court in late February, seeks to compel Gov. Scott Walker to call special elections in the state Legislature’s 1st Senate District and 42nd Assembly District. Both became vacant on December 29, 2017, when Walker hired their officeholders for posts in his administration.