Last Updated:November 24 @ 07:25 pm

Judge strikes down Wis. law limiting union rights, appeal coming

By Scott Bauer

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin judge has struck down nearly all of the state law championed by Gov. Scott Walker that effectively ended collective bargaining rights for most public workers.

Walker's administration immediately vowed to appeal the Friday ruling, while unions, which have vigorously fought the law, declared victory. But what the ruling meant for existing public contracts was murky: Unions claimed the ruling meant they could negotiate again, but Walker could seek to keep the law in effect while the legal drama plays out.

The law, a crowning achievement for Walker that made him a national conservative star, took away nearly all collective bargaining rights from most workers and has been in effect for more than a year.

Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas ruled that the law violates both the state and U.S. Constitution and is null and void.

In his 27-page ruling, the judge said sections of the law "single out and encumber the rights of those employees who choose union membership and representation solely because of that association and therefore infringe upon the rights of free speech and association guaranteed by both the Wisconsin and United States Constitutions."

Colas also said the law violates the equal protection clause by creating separate classes of workers who are treated differently and unequally.

The ruling applies to all local public workers affected by the law, including teachers and city and county government employees, but not those who work for the state. They were not a party to the lawsuit, which was brought by a Madison teachers union and a Milwaukee public workers union.

Walker issued a statement accusing the judge of being a "liberal activist" who "wants to go backwards and take away the lawmaking responsibilities of the legislature and the governor. We are confident that the state will ultimately prevail in the appeals process."

Wisconsin Department of Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck said DOJ believes the law is constitutional.

The ruling throws into question changes that have been made in pay, benefits and other work rules in place across the state for city, county and school district workers.

Walker's law, passed in March 2011, only allowed for collective bargaining on wage increases no greater than the rate of inflation. All other issues, including workplace safety, vacation, health benefits, could no longer be bargained for.

The ruling means that local government and schools now must once again bargain over those issues, said Lester Pines, an attorney for Madison Teachers Inc. that brought the case.

"We're back to where we were before the law was enacted," he said.

Pines predicted the case would ultimately be resolved by the state Supreme Court.

"What's going to happen in the interim is unknown," he said.

The state Supreme Court in June 2011 ruled that the law was constitutional after it had been blocked by a different Dane County judge on a challenge over its passage being a violation of open meetings law.

Walker introduced the proposal in February 2011, six weeks after he took office. It resulted in a firestorm of opposition and led to huge protests at the state Capitol that lasted for weeks. All 14 Democratic state senators fled the state to Illinois for three weeks in an ultimately failed attempt to stop the law's passage from the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The law required public workers to pay more for their health insurance and pension benefits at the same time it took away their ability to collectively bargain over those issues. Walker argued the changes were needed to help state and local governments save money at a time Wisconsin faced a $3 billion budget shortfall.

Anger over the law's passage led to an effort to recall Walker from office. More than 930,000 signatures were collected triggering the June recall election. Walker won and became the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall.

The lawsuit was among several filed against the law.

A coalition of unions filed a federal lawsuit in Madison in June 2011, arguing that the law violated the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause because it exempted firefighters and police officers. A federal just upheld most of the law in March, but the rulings are under appeal.

Another lawsuit was filed in July 2011 by two unions representing about 2,700 public workers in Madison and Dane County. They also challenged the law on equal protection grounds. The case is pending.

Democrats and unions were ecstatic with Friday's ruling.

"As we have said from day one, Scott Walker's attempt to silence the union men and women of Wisconsin's public sector was an immoral, unjust and illegal power grab," said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO.

The Democratic minority leader in the state Assembly called the ruling a huge victory for workers and free speech.

"This decision will help re-establish the balance between employees and their employers," said Rep. Peter Barca.

Republican Rep. Robin Vos, a staunch supporter of the law and the presumptive next speaker of the Assembly, called the ruling an example of the "arrogance of the judiciary."

"I'm confident it's a single judge out of step with the mainstream," Vos said. He said the law is working "and we'll continue to implement it."


Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this story.

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  1. Bill KayComment by Bill Kay
    September 15, 2012 @ 10:31 am

    It think it would be delightful if some these half Wit judges could be dethroned perementely .

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  2. nullzipComment by nullzip
    September 15, 2012 @ 10:58 am

    Can we all say bought and paid for judge?

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  3. dak605Comment by dak605
    September 15, 2012 @ 11:05 am

    This says a WI judge ruled? Who cares, I believe the WI Supreme Court already ruled Walker’s action constitutional?

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    • bna42Comment by bna42
      September 15, 2012 @ 1:52 pm

      “The state Supreme Court in June 2011 ruled that the law was constitutional after it had been blocked by a different Dane County judge”

      This is the thing I don’t understand. How can a county judge declare the law unconstitutional when the State Supreme Court has already ruled on the same law and allowed it to stand?

      The unions are determined to keep shopping for someone to support their side, but it seems to me that the Supreme Court of Wisconsin has made the final decision and the only way to change that is for the legislature to change the law.

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  4. varkdrvrComment by varkdrvr
    September 15, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

    Wait a minute, bargaining = free speech? Union members are free to say anything they want. They can complain as much as they want about the raw deal they think they’re getting. They can even (gasp!) QUIT if the state is such a horrible employer. What the law says is certain items of the contracts are not negotiable by collective bargaining. Equal protection? Union negotiations are inherently unequal. Collective bargaining is always done by “craft and class”. Otherwise it would be unconstitutional for the Teamsters to get a different contract from the AFL-CIO. Assembly line workers would have to have the same contract conditions as hotel workers. Clearly equal protection does not mean equal results or negotiating status. The biggest problem these days is that once something goes to a judge, there is no way of knowing what the result will be. Hard to play the game if random judges keep changing the rules faster than you can learn them. And why did we ever think because they were unelected judges would be unbiased?

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  5. CharlieComment by vietnamvet
    September 15, 2012 @ 1:05 pm

    The majority in Wisconsin elected Walker knowing his plan.
    that same majority grew larger when defeating the recall petition, after Walker’s plan had been made law.

    Now, it is up to that same majority to put a liberal judge on the employment line.

    If he doesn’t know that he can’t overrule the Supreme Court, he has no business sitting in a courtroom.

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  6. mxquistComment by mxquist
    September 15, 2012 @ 2:29 pm

    As a Conservative Republican, I am a stranger in the strange land of my birth, the Left Coast Liberal controlled state of California. And over the last couple of decades have been a witness to, and a victim of the the rulings, and especially OVER-rulings of activist left leaning judges.

    So many expensive elections, so many majority results, only to end up in court after court until…

    How many more times must a voting populous allow a single single-minded, single-purposed person tell the rest of the majority that their say has no value?

    The leftist crybabies have found useful tools in perpetual whining, along with disruptive and often destructive demonstrations, until they finally get their case presented in the court of the one person with the legal power (authority is always in dispute…) who sees it their way and rules in their favor, despite their being just a loud and otherwise unruly minority only interested in their own self-interests, regardless of what it might cost everyone else in their town, county, state or country.

    And for it all, all I can see, again, in the Wisconsin case, and the Chicago teacher’s union case, we can just forget about expecting them –expecting them!– to fulfill their end of the bargain, by producing at the levels they claim to be able to produce once their demands have been met, because as witnessed so many times before, despite all of the previous manipulated to capitulation to their demands over the years, the results we have been promised in return, they will suddenly find they are unable, or unwilling to achieve…again.

    All because one person seems to have the power over the majority.

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    • rp13Comment by rp13
      September 16, 2012 @ 8:26 am

      I too am part of the California minority, and you are so correct. We unfortunately see this over and over again! The issue that bothers me the most is that the so-called open-minded “liberals” constantly waste time and tax-payer money whenever they lose by way of their “fit-throwing” lawsuits, appeals, etc., and they are the ones who cannot and do not respect the majority opinion and/or vote. Once again, so much for being liberal and open-minded.

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  7. middlegroundComment by middleground
    September 15, 2012 @ 2:36 pm

    This is why the Republic is in trouble. Every Democrat in office thinks they can make laws they like and ignore those they don’t like. Fifty years ago when students took civics, these students would have known state trumps county and county trumps city in that they collect the money. Some county judge now needs to declare Obama can’t be president and we will have a two party mess.

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  8. noveldogComment by noveldog
    September 15, 2012 @ 2:48 pm

    It appears a certain judge needs to be recalled. We can’t wait for him to ugly away, or have a change of heart. The people agreed with the governor, or they would have recalled him. That means the judge is going against the people by blocking this. He needs to be rode out of town on a rail car, or something. Start a petition to get rid of him. Too many arrogant individuals are trying to run all over the will of the people. It is time to put a stop to it….so do it Wisconsin!

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  9. David PeacockComment by David Peacock
    September 15, 2012 @ 3:11 pm

    this judge received [$100,000] in union kick backs [i imagine a trip to Aruba as well}.

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    • proudvetComment by proudvet
      September 16, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

      That was one ignorant comment. Shows how stupid some can be.

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  10. thomasjeffersonComment by thomasjefferson
    September 15, 2012 @ 3:56 pm

    Another obama drone that needs to be removed from the bench.

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  11. aretiredgiComment by aretiredgi
    September 15, 2012 @ 5:22 pm

    Just another log on the fire that’s building in this once great country.

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  12. CharieComment by Charie
    September 15, 2012 @ 9:30 pm

    @David: Where did you get your information? I’m a Wisconsin resident and I’ve neither read nor heard anything like that.

    This judge is the first Hispanic judge in the court system and he’s a good friend of our former Democrat governor, Jim Doyle.

    @noveldog: Easy for you to say. We’ve been voting and fighting and working for the Republican Party for 2 straight years. Only to see all our work go for naught. These rotten unions! We need to get enough senators in this state to be able to get rid of all the closed shops. We’re not only fighting Wisconsin unions – they come from all over the country. How about you donate a little money to our governor so we can keep fighting??? Enough standing on the sidelines and giving advice! We’ve been able to do it so far, but there are people who will simply give up and not even donate or work at the campaign HQs anymore.

    You don’t have to worry about me. I’m old but I’m tough! I’d rather die than see things go back to what they were when our state was going to hell so fast, we could almost feel the flames!

    Just a word to the Ron Paul people. Some of you won’t vote this year, just like last year. I want to thank you for our president, Barack Obama. Stick to your guns kids and in about 2 years that madman will have his wish – our country will be just like all the third world countries except for him and his buddies who will be living off the fat of the land. The proletariat gets to stand in long lines to get a head of cabbage and a loaf of cheap bread.

    They’re Communists and don’t forget it!


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    • aretiredgiComment by aretiredgi
      September 16, 2012 @ 1:13 am

      Charie, want to see what your up against: This is from Congresswomen Jan Schakowski, but she represents Illinois?

      Dear Cpt Dennis,

      This Saturday, I hope you can join me for a day of canvassing in Wisconsin! I’ll be leading a contingent from the 9th District to canvass to recall Scott Walker’s allies in the WI State Senate. We’ve all been inspired by watching the working people of Wisconsin stand up for their rights. Let’s lend them a hand and help recall those seeking to roll back our civil rights. I hope you can join us!

      Carpool to Canvass for Recall
      Saturday, March 19th 2011
      9 AM – 5 PM
      Assemble at the Democratic Party of Evanston – 821 Chicago Avenue
      For more info or to RSVP, e-mail Alex Armour at or call 847-372-4382


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  13. James OwenComment by James Owen
    September 16, 2012 @ 4:51 pm

    Simple solution: There are Wisconsin laws that legalized collective bargaining with public employee unions. Repeal those laws. Let an activist liberal judge try to convince anyone — other than the thieves feeding at the public trough — that repealing those laws is “unconstitutional”…..

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  14. jed1Comment by jed1
    September 18, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

    There is something basically wrong with a system that allows ONE simple judge to strike down a law put in place by either the elected head of a government or by the votes of the citizens.

    Something like this needs to be done before a law is enacted and by a panel of several judges from DIFFERENT courts.

    One judge…. how preposterous is that? That same judge should be removed from the bence (by the same style of action; i.e. a mandate from the governor).

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  15. jed1Comment by jed1
    September 18, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

    (liberal) Open minds LEAK.

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