Residency rules were a "common feature of urban 'machine politics'" that helped politicians accrue power by "creating a block of voters that would reliably favor bigger government, more pay, and higher taxes," according to a brief filed with the State Supreme Court.
In the 1970s, political leaders ind "decaying urban centers" used residency rules to prevent middle-class families from moving to the suburbs "in search of a higher quality of life and better city services," according to the brief filed by the right wing Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL).
Supporters of residency rules, unmentioned in the WILL brief, argue that employees who are paid by a municipality or other local government ought to have a stake in the community. Some also object to the idea of a police officer imposing order, sometimes through force, in a community where they do not reside.
The Legislature in 2013 struck down residency rules. Milwaukee said it would continue to enforce the 1938 rule, and police and firefighters sued.
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Van Grunsven ruled the new state law trumped the city's residency rule, but the State Court of Appeals, in a decision written by Appeals Judge Patricia S. Curley, overturned the decision. The Appeals Court wrote that the issue was a matter of local concern, and was not an issue of state concern just because the legislature said it was.
There is much skepticism about whether the Supreme Court, dominated by conservatives, will uphold the Appeals Court decision. The city is not enforcing the residency rule pending the outcome of the Supreme Court case. The WILL brief could provide a blueprint the court can follow to kill residency rules once and for all.
WILL argued that the Appeals Court finding that the law would disproportionately impact Milwaukee was wrong.
It is difficult to imagine a uniform law that would not impact the hundreds municipalities in Wisconsin in disparate ways....The legislature could never regulate “with uniformity” because all statutes have differing impacts on different cities and villages," the brief said.
The Appeals Court should have considered whether articles, reports or other scholarly materials support the case for limiting residency rules, the brief said.
"Legislators may have concluded that, just as job seekers are protected from discrimination based on other grounds, they should be able to compete for jobs without being burdened by their place of residence," the brief said. "Further municipalities, including Milwaukee, receive substantial shared state aid....Legislators might have concluded that the efficient and effective use of state resources is best advanced by free and open competition for municipal employment."
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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