The Wisconsin Supreme Court ended a three-year battle over Gov. Scott Walker’s signature legislation Thursday, delivering a 5-2 decision in the law’s favor. Act 10, passed by a majority GOP legislature in 2011, limited collective bargaining for public employees, sent the state’s elected Democrats into hiding in another state to avoid a vote on it, and left liberal activists to turn the Wisconsin capitol building into an episode of “Hoarders” as they camped where their elected officials dared not tread lest they have to do their jobs. The subsequent electoral and legal fights have attracted the entire professional Left, millions of dollars, and every kind of organizer to the Badger state to attempt to defeat Walker and anyone who helped him. Again and again, they have failed, and today’s decision is another reminder that no matter how big a fit they’ve pitched, this law will go— ahem— on, Wisconsin.
The decision is also a boon to Walker’s reelection effort, neck-and-neck with challenger Mary Burke, coming as it does on the heels of national and nearly uniformly unfair coverage of a fruitless secret investigation into Walker, who was exonerated by two judges who rejected the charges. Nonetheless, the old swirling accusations, treated as new, became an attack line for Burke and a bruise for Walker, fair or not.
Using the model the national press used for coverage of the fruitless John Doe investigation, they should all get to work writing lead stories about the now failed and rejected arguments brought by the union defendants in this case without ever mentioning the Supreme Court decided 5-2 against those arguments and upheld the law.
The decision was 5-2, with Justice Michael Gableman writing the lead opinion, which found that collective bargaining over a contract with an employer is not a fundamental right for public employees under the constitution. Instead, it’s a benefit that lawmakers can extend or restrict as they see fit, he said.
“No matter the limitations or ‘burdens’ a legislative enactment places on the collective bargaining process, collective bargaining remains a creation of legislative grace and not constitutional obligation. The First Amendment cannot be used as a vehicle to expand the parameters of a benefit that it does not itself protect,” Gableman wrote.
Rejecting arguments made by the Madison teachers union and Public Employees Local 61, a group of city of Milwaukee employees, Gableman said that public employees still had the right to form unions to influence their employers, but government officials aren’t obligated to listen to them.
“The plaintiffs remain free to advance any position, on any topic, either individually or in concert, through any channels that are open to the public,” Gableman wrote.
The full opinion is here.
Walker hailed the decision as a win for taxpayers.
“Act 10 has saved Wisconsin taxpayers more than $3 billion,” Walker said in a statement. “Today’s ruling is a victory for those hard-working taxpayers.”
Attorney General JB Van Hollen applauded the court’s decision.
“Since the historic events of 2011, I have been dedicated to defending Act 10 and Wisconsin’s Voter ID law,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “Today, the Supreme Court has completely upheld these laws. The decisions settle important state policy and serve to strengthen our constitutional democracy.”
As Rick Esenberg notes in this radio interview with Charlie Sykes, the decision throws into limbo (and illegality) several agreements unions made with local governments across Wisconsin after an earlier ruling declared Act 10 unconstitutional. At the time of that ruling in 2012, Sunny Schubert highlighted just such a hastily made agreement in Dane County:
Well, that didn’t take long.
Last Friday, Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas ruled that Act 10, which dramatically cut the powers of public employee unions, is unconstitutional.
Eager to take advantage of Colas’ ruling before it could be stayed or overturned, officials from various unions representing Dane County employees, immediately began pressuring county officials for a new contract.
On Wednesday, 22 members of the Dane County Board signed a petition asking the board to sign a new contract with the union.
On Thursday, with scant public notice, the board voted 29-8 to do just that.
The court also decided in favor of the state’s Voter ID law, with a predictably overwrought dissent invoking Jim Crow, and affirmed a civil unions registry that allowed the state to give benefits to same-sex partners was not prohibited by the state’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (which itself was overturned by a federal court this week). Both of those decisions may be subject to further review in federal courts, but Esenberg and Sykes offer a nice run-down of what happened today.