MADISON, Wis. - The State Supreme Court upheld Governor Scott Walker's signature piece of legislation Thursday in a 5-2 decision.
In a decision written by Justice Michael Gableman, he ruled that Act 10, the law the prohibits most collective bargaining between the government and public employees, does not violate the state constitution.
The case brought by Madison Teachers, Inc. and a Milwaukee public workers union claimed that the law violates workers constitutional rights to equal protection and association. Dane County Judge Juan Colas agreed with that ruling and blocked the law in September of 2013.
But in the Thursday ruling, the court disagreed.
"The plaintiff's associational rights are in no way implicated by Act 10's modifications to Wisconsin's Collective Bargaining framework," wrote Gableman in the decision.
Gableman argued multiple times that the constitution does not protect a union right to bargain.
"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 a constitutional obligation," Gableman wrote.
In a concurrence with the opinion, though, Justice Patrick Crooks wrote that Act 10 "appears to have gone further than needed."
"Although Act 10 does not violate either the United States Constitution or the Wisconsin Constitution, it erodes longstanding benefits to both public workers and public employers," said Crooks. "I write separately to make clear what my vote in this case means and to emphasize the importance of policies that give rights to workers to organize and bargain collectively."
In a dissent opinion, Ann Walsh Bradley argued that Act 10 unconstitutionally infringed on protected rights.
"The right to freedom of association is diluted as the majority has opened the door for the state to withhold benefits and punish individuals based on their membership in disfavored groups."
Act 10 was passed the Republican legislature and signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker in 2011 after weeks of protests.
Walker introduced it shortly after taking office, and rose to national prominence as he defended it and won the 2012 recall election.
The following quotes are reactions to the Act 10 decision:
Gov. Scott Walker: "Act 10 has saved Wisconsin taxpayers more than $3 billion. Today's ruling is a victory for those hard-working taxpayers."
Joe Zepecki, spokesman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke: "Mary supports the right of workers to collectively bargain, and believes that the concessions on health care and pension were fair, but should have been reached through the collective bargaining process. She knows that collective bargaining rights don't stand in the way of effective, accountable government, and that working together is the best way to address the challenges we face."
Democratic gubernatorial candidate state Rep. Brett Hulsey: "This partisan decision by a packed GOP state Supreme Court takes away worker's rights to bargain for a safe place to work. It underscores the need to vote for me in Aug. 12th primary. As governor, I will call a special session of the Legislature on day one to restore workers' rights, health care and retirement."
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin: "Where legal, city of Madison will continue to negotiate labor agreements in good faith with our workers. Where Act 10 violates this principle, we will develop constructive alternatives that recognize the dignity and rights of pubic employees."
"The city of Madison will continue to work under the existing labor contracts until January 1, 2015 when the handbook and related ordinances will replace the contracts."
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald: "After months of protests and costly recalls that Governor Walker, many of my Senate colleagues and I myself survived to retain control over the Statehouse, I hope that this added legal victory can allow us to finally lay the fight surrounding Act 10 to rest. The people and the courts have spoken: Act 10 is here to stay and Wisconsin is moving in the right direction."
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos: "Act 10 continues to have a positive impact in Wisconsin. The law has moved Wisconsin forward, billions of tax dollars have been saved, and local governments now have the flexibility needed to balance their budgets. Today we once again hear from the courts that Act 10 is constitutional through and through."
State Sen. Chris Larson, Democratic Senate minority leader: "Their opinion will continue to negatively impact communities across Wisconsin by limiting the freedom of our hard-working neighbors to negotiate with their employers for fair wages and safe working conditions."
State Rep. Peter Barca, Democratic Assembly minority leader: "Wisconsin's proud history of protecting workers rights is marred by Walker and Republicans' dismantling of collective bargaining for our public sector workers. Today's Supreme Court ruling is extremely disappointing for the teachers, nurses, prison guards, and other professionals who serve the public each day."
Republican state Sen. Joe Leibham, author of the law and a candidate for 6th Congressional District seat: "I have always held that a photo ID for voters is a necessary and reasonable requirement to ensure the integrity of and confidence in our election process. I have always maintained that one of the key blocks in the foundation of our free country is our election process and our ability as citizens to vote for our leaders at the local, state, and federal levels. This is a great right that can and should be protected in the strongest way possible and not by watering down our laws."
Wisconsin Manufacturing and Commerce president Kurt Bauer: "Act 10 is a landmark achievement for Wisconsin. It has saved taxpayers billions and it has saved public employee jobs. Act 10 has also helped improve Wisconsin's business climate by removing the threat of tax and fee increases caused by deficits."
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