The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a law stripping most unions of collective bargaining rights was passed legally and can go into effect, reversing a lower court's decision.
Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi had ruled that Republican state senators had violated a statute compelling lawmakers to negotiate in the open by voting on the bill behind closed doors. The Supreme Court overruled that findind by a vote of 4-3, arguing that in seeking to halt the law's implementation Sumi had usurped authority that properly belonged to the legislature.
Choices about what laws represent wise public policy for the state of Wisconsin are not within the constitutional purview of the courts, the majority wrote. The court's task in the action for original jurisdiction that we have granted is limited to determining whether the Legislature employed a constitutionally violative process in the enactment of the act.
The ruling represents a major victory for Gov. Scott Walker, who cast curtailing union benefits as a crucial budget-balancing measure. The law sharply limits unions' negotiating power and requires union employees to contribute a share of their salaries to healthcare and pension plans, exempting law enforcement and firefighters.
Republican lawmakers were planning to attach the same measure to a state budget bill if the court did not make a ruling, a move that could have reignited the fierce legislative fight that saw Democratic senators flee the state to stall the legislation in February. Protesters filled the statehouse in Madison yesterday, though the demonstrations were not on the same scale as the massive ones surrounding the bill's initial passage.
Nine state senators, three Democrats and six Republicans, face recall elections that are widely seen as referendums on the divisive legislation and as a test for the statewide Republican majority that voters elevated into power in 2010. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the state Republican party is planning to run decoy Democratic candidates in order to force a Democratic party and buy endangered Republican incumbents more time to prepare for challenges.