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Words Mean Things: Wisconsin Supreme Court Gets VERY Creative With Definition of 'Sidewalk'

Meme screenshot

This is an interesting story that probably wouldn't get much notice inside or outside the state of Wisconsin, but we're glad Jonathan Turley brought it to our attention.


Here's background from Turley:

At issue was the effort of the state to create more sidewalks. Faced with resistance from homeowners, the state was using eminent domain to simply condemn the land and claim it for sidewalks. However, Wisconsin has strong protections for home owners, including statutes expressly stating that the power of eminent domain must be “strictly construed” against the government.

Moreover, there is a statute that expressly bars the use of eminent domain to take property for “pedestrian way[s].” It defines a “pedestrian way” as “a walk designated for the use of pedestrian travel.”

To every Bumble and non-Bumble alike, that would seem to describe a sidewalk, which is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a usually paved walk for pedestrians at the side of a street.”

But the liberal justices on Wisconsin's supreme court, including Justice Rebecca Frank Dallet decided to play fast and loose with the definition of 'sidewalk' and 'pedestrian travel'. From Justice Dallet:

Reading the text of this section as a whole, we find several indications that the definition of pedestrian way does not include sidewalks. For starters, both § 346.02(8)(a) and (b) use the terms “sidewalk” and “pedestrian way” in ways that signify that each term has a separate, non-overlapping meaning. … Section 346.02(8)(b) states that pedestrian ways shall be treated ‘as if’ they were sidewalks for utility installation and assessment purposes. The phrase “as if” signals that one category (pedestrian ways) should receive the same treatment as a different category (sidewalks). That is the same way the legislature used “as if” in, for example, Wis. Stat. § 53.03, which states that Wisconsin courts “may treat a foreign country as if it were a state” in guardianship proceedings. Just as foreign countries are not states, but should be treated as if they were for guardianship purposes, pedestrian ways are not sidewalks, but should be treated as if they were for utility-installation and assessment purposes.


What is the purpose of a sidewalk if not a means of 'pedestrian travel'?

That's how this works now.

That's a logical conclusion one could draw from this court's ruling.

We agree.

A big joke, but not a funny one.

And you can point to this ruling as giving you permission to do so.

Yes they will.

We have no idea.


Won't get an argument from this writer, who lives in Milwaukee.

Of course it is. It's positively Orwellian.

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