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When Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate voted to fine Democrats $100 for every day they're absent, Democratic Minority Leader Mark Miller called the moves petty and school-yard like. Wait'll he gets a load of this.

The Wisconsin Senate has passed a resolution ordering the arrest of the 14 Democrats who fled for Illinois to prevent a vote on a union rights bill from taking place.

"The resolution says the absent Democrats are determined to be guilty of contempt and disorderly content," the AP reports. "It gives the sergeant at arms the authority to take any and all steps, with or without force and assistance from police, to bring the senators back."

Is the resolution legal? Out of the gates, some commentators are skeptical.

David Dayen at the left-leaning website Fire Dog Lake thinks the Wisconsin constitution is quite clear on this matter:

This is just not legal, regardless of whether Republicans got some John Yoo clone to write a memo authorizing it. The Wisconsin Constitution is explicit: it says that lawmakers can only be arrested while the Legislature is in session for “treason, felony and breach of peace,” and that lawmakers are similarly exempt from civil process.

Meanwhile, James Troupis, an attorney hired by the Republicans, says it is legal, reports the Wisconsin State Journal.

He cited a portion of the state Constitution that provides that each house "may compel the attendance of absent members."

Last week, the staff at The Fourth Branch took a deep look at the Wisconsin constitution. They were somewhat uncertain about what powers the Sergeant at Arms actually has:

The jurisdiction of the Sergeant at Arms is debatable. There is a strong argument that his power is limited to the confines of the Capitol grounds. Outside of the Capitol grounds, the Sergeant at Arms may be powerless to compel any action.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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