We’ve been here before, remember? A left-wing judge struck down the law on a procedural technicality in May of last year. The Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed a month later. Bet heavily that this will be reversed too, just because I suspect America’s not quite ready to start throwing up constitutional roadblocks to fiscal reforms while states are already teetering on a fiscal cliff. Especially after Wisconsin held an election just three months ago where voters had a chance to effectively decide that issue.
The law remains largely in force for state workers, though a federal judge struck down part of that section of the law as well earlier this year. But for city, county, and school workers the decision by Dane County Judge Juan Colas returns the law to its status before Walker signed his law in March 2011.
Colas ruled that the law violated workers’ constitutional rights by making denying to union workers certain powers available to their nonunion counterparts. The decision could still be overturned on appeal – the Supreme Court has already restored the law once in June 2011 after it was blocked by a different Dane County judge earlier that year…
School districts and local officials will have to return to the bargaining table with their workers in a much more significant way. The decision raises a host of questions about changes in pay, benefits and work rules that have taken place in the meantime while bargaining was essentially dead.
Under Walker’s law, both the state and local governments were prohibited from bargaining over anything besides a cost of living salary adjustment. Other issues such as health benefits, pensions, workplace safety and other work rules were strictly off limits.
The decision’s here. The court concedes that there’s no constitutional right to collective bargaining; the argument is that the state discriminated against union employees, which makes it an equal protection issue. Typically in equal-protection jurisprudence, governments are given wide latitude in economic matters; go figure that Wisconsin wasn’t given that latitude here. But then, the legal reasoning isn’t important. The point of the ruling is to snatch victory on collective bargaining for the left from the jaws of defeat after defeat after defeat. Maybe that’s how union rights will be handled from now on — as with abortion rights, they’ll be yanked out of the hands of voters and kept safe from the grubby hands of democracy. A savvy move. And in the spirit of fire-with-fire, I guess it’s now time for more conservative judges to start thinking seriously about revisiting Lochner. Long live rule by judiciary!