Wisconsin Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Case Involving Municipal Residency Requirements

Published on: November 9, 2015

Appeals Court misinterpreted Constitution’s uniformity clause, precedent

November 9, 2015 – Milwaukee, WI – The Wisconsin Supreme Court has decided to hear a case brought by City of Milwaukee firefighters and police against the City of Milwaukee challenging the legality of Milwaukee’s ordinance requiring employees to reside in Milwaukee.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty asked the Supreme Court to consider the case after the Appeals Court erred in its review of precedent and misinterpretation of the constitution’s uniformity clause.

The lawsuit stems from a Wisconsin law passed in 2013 that prohibited residency requirements for municipal employees. The Legislature specifically intended for the law to apply to all counties and municipalities throughout Wisconsin and was not targeted at Milwaukee as the Appeals Court incorrectly asserted.

In its amicus brief supporting Supreme Court review, WILL noted that, “[R]esidency restrictions such as those long in force in Milwaukee (and dozens of other Wisconsin municipalities) are a vestige of urban “machine” politics dating back more than a century, used to shore up the political power of local politicians.  By restricting city jobs to people who lived in the city, those machines guaranteed themselves a substantial voting bloc who would favor increased spending. In recent decades the legislatures of several nearby Midwestern states (Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio) have eliminated or greatly restricted such residency requirements.”

WILL Associate Counsel Tom Kamenick noted at the time of the request for Supreme Court review that, “The Appeals Court ignored precedent for analyzing whether a law is of ‘statewide concern’ and wrongly faulted the Legislature for actually taking into consideration objections to the measure by the City of Milwaukee.”

WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg said that he was heartened that the Supreme Court has decided to look at the issue. “Municipalities ought not to be permitted to dictate where their employees live. If they want to attract middle class families, then they need to adopt a set of policies that make their town attractive for everyone.”

The Court will now accept briefs on the merits. WILL will once again support the rights of municipal employees to live where they want.

The case is Milwaukee Police Association v. City of Milwaukee (L.C.#2013CV5977).
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