MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin Supreme Court handed Republican Gov. Scott Walker a major victory on Tuesday, ruling that a polarizing union law that strips most public employees of their collective bargaining rights could take effect.
In a 4-3 decision that included a blistering dissent, the court ruled that Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi overstepped her authority when she declared the law void. Sumi had ruled that Republican lawmakers violated the state’s open meetings statutes in the run-up to passage of the union legislation.
The proposal sparked weeks of protests when Walker introduced it in February. Tens of thousands of demonstrators descended on the state Capitol for weeks and Democratic senators fled the state to prevent a vote, thrusting Wisconsin to the forefront of a national debate over labor rights.
Walker claimed that the law, which also requires public employees to pay more for their health care and pensions, was needed to help address the state’s $3.6 billion budget shortfall and to 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.
In a one-sentence reaction to the ruling, Walker said: “The Supreme Court’s ruling provides our state the opportunity to move forward together and focus on getting Wisconsin working again.”
Union leaders blasted the court’s decision. Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, called it “an affront to our democracy.”
An avalanche of lawsuits is expected, since legal challenges couldn’t be brought until the law took effect.