Going back to the days of “political machines,” municipalities have sometimes required their employees to live within the city limits. Doing so guaranteed the local politicians a large bloc of voters who could be counted on to support increased spending and lavish compensation packages. To combat such corruption and level the playing field for job applicants, many states – particularly in the Midwest – have banned or restricted municipalities from enacting such residency limits.
As part of the 2013-2015 budget, Wisconsin passed a law banning units of local government from requiring employees to live within the municipality (although they could still require emergency personnel to live within 15 miles). In response, the City of Milwaukee (which has a residency requirement) committed itself to still enforcing its ordinance, and the Milwaukee Police Association sued the City.
The circuit court ruled that Milwaukee’s home rule authority did not trump the legislature’s ability to ban municipalities from discriminating against out-of-towners. However, the court of appeals reversed, concluding that the state had no interest in banning such discrimination, and worse, that the law did not apply uniformly to every municipality, despite the plain language in the law saying that it did. The court concluded that the law “affected” municipalities differently, and therefore was not uniform. But if that analysis were correct, than no law could ever be uniform, because all laws will have different impacts on different cities.
WILL filed an amicus brief asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to hear the case. The court granted the petition, and WILL filed an amicus brief on the merits as well. The court reversed the court of appeals, upholding the prohibition on residency requirements and voiding Milwaukee’s restrictions.