MADISON, Wisc. (CN) – The state Supreme Court upheld Wisconsin’s controversial anti-union law in a 4-3 decision Tuesday, paving the way for the 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 to take effect.
The decision came quickly; Republicans in the Assembly had threatened to add collective-bargaining limits to the state budget if the state Supreme Court had not ruled by the end of day Tuesday.
Dane County Court Judge Maryann Sumi threw out the law in May, saying Republican legislators had violated the state’s Open Meetings Law in pushing it through a joint committee of conference on March 9.
The state Supreme Court’s ruling was all but inevitable, after the recount of the race for incumbent Justice David Prosser’s seat on the court. Prosser, a former Republican speaker of the Assembly, eked out a win over a Democratic state prosecutor, in the ostensibly nonpartisan race. The anti-union law, aka the “Budget Repair Bill,” was the catalyzing force in the high turnout for the off-year judicial election.
Gov. Scott Walker’s now-famous Budget Repair Bill was introduced on Feb. 11. Walker said the bill, which prohibits public employees from collectively bargaining for anything but salary, was written to address a $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
The bill also requires annual votes to recertify union representation; prohibits employers from collecting union dues through paycheck deductions; requires state workers to contribute 50 percent to their pensions; and increases employee contributions for health insurance from a 6 percent statewide average to just over 12 percent, among other things. The bill will not apply to police, firefighters, and local government transit workers.
The bill – which makes far greater changes to collective-bargaining rights than it does to the state’s budget deficit – led to a national uproar.
All 14 Democratic state senators, dubbed by the media the “Wisconsin 14” (and as “fleebaggers” by Republicans), fled to Illinois to deny Republicans a quorum.
As many as 100,000 protesters a day – and some proponents of the bill – rallied at the Capitol beginning on Valentine’s Day.
Arguably the most dramatic day of the protests was when Republicans jammed into the Senate Parlor with only media and a few members of the public present, to try to seal the deal in a 17-second vote. The only Democrat assigned to the committee who could attend was Representative Peter Barca (D-Kenosha), who famously stood in the tense Senate Parlor calmly reading a legal memo from the sitting Republican attorney general, advising legislators to grant 24 hours notice before important meetings.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the law one week after hearing oral arguments, which lasted more than 5 hours.
“This court has granted the petition for an original action because one of the courts that we are charged with supervising has usurped the legislative power which the
Wisconsin Constitution grants exclusively to the Legislature,” the court majority wrote.
The majority concluded that access was not denied to the Senate Parlor. The doors were open to the press and the public, and the proceedings were broadcast live by Wisconsin Eye. The court wrote: “There is no constitutional requirement that the Legislature provide access to as many members of the public as wish to attend meetings of the Legislature or meetings of legislative committees.”
It also added that, according to Senate Rule 93(2), “when in special session, ‘notice of a committee meeting is not required other than posting on the legislative bulletin board[.]'”
The majority also found that Judge Sumi had exceeded her powers, that the subject was beyond her jurisdiction, and that she “erred in enjoining the publication and further implementation of the Act.”
“No court has jurisdiction to enjoin the legislative process at any point,” the court majority wrote.
In dissent, the minority criticized the hasty rendering of the decision, saying it lacked “sufficient consideration” and did not “adequately address” the arguments.
Several other lawsuits have challenged the bill, and more can be expected. As well, nine Senate recall elections – six Republican and three Democratic – are scheduled for July.
The Republican Party of Wisconsin announced that “protest candidates,” or phony Democrats, will run in their own recall elections, to force a Democratic primary, which would push the Republican recalls back to August, and give the incumbents more time to campaign.
Democrats denounced the spoiler-candidates tactic as another “dirty trick.”
Republicans control the Assembly, 59 seats to the Democrats’ 38. There is one independent and one vacant seat. Republicans control the Senate 19-14.