POSTED: 12:33 p.m. HST, Jun 14, 2011
MADISON, Wis. >> The Wisconsin Supreme Court handed Republican Gov. Scott Walker a major victory today, ruling that his polarizing union rights law can go into effect.
In a 4-3 decision, the court said Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi overstepped her authority when she said Republican lawmakers violated the state's opening meetings statutes in the run-up to passage and declared the union rights law void.
The law, which eliminates most of public employees' collective bargaining rights and requires them to pay more for their health care and pensions, sparked weeks of protests when Walker introduced it in February. Tens of thousands of demonstrators occupied the state Capitol for weeks, thrusting Wisconsin to the forefront of a national debate over labor rights.
Walker claimed that the law was needed to help address the state's $3.6 billion budget shortfall and give local governments enough flexibility on labor costs to deal with deep cuts to state aid.
Democrats saw it as an attack on public employee unions, which usually back their party's candidates. Democratic state senators fled to Illinois to try to prevent a vote on the measure, but Republicans got around the maneuver by convening a special committee to remove fiscal elements from the bill and allow a Senate vote with fewer members present. Walker signed the plan into law two days later.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, a Democrat, filed a lawsuit the next week claiming Republicans didn't provide the proper public notice of the meeting in violation of state law. Sumi first issued a temporary order blocking publication of the collective bargaining law while she weighed his arguments and then last month declared the law void.
Attorneys for the state Department of Justice, representing the Republicans who control the Legislature, asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take the case directly, in part to speed the process. Walker counted on the law being in effect in the budget he put forward for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Ozanne had urged the court to let the case work its way through the usual appeals process.