Wisconsin State court upholds controversial union law High court's 4-3 decision included blistering dissent

By Scott Bauer

Associated Press

ADISON, Wisconsin (AP) -- Wisconsin's polarizing union rights law is set to take effect after the state Supreme Court determined that a judge overstepped her authority when she voided the governor's plan to strip most public workers of their collective bargaining rights.

The ruling Tuesday evening was a major victory for Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who said the law was needed to help address the state's $3.6 billion budget shortfall. His proposal -- which drew tens of thousands of demonstrators to the state Capitol for weeks earlier this year -- thrust Wisconsin to the forefront of a national debate over labor rights.

In a 4-3 decision that included a blistering dissent, the Supreme Court ruled that Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi overstepped when she declared the law void last month. Sumi sided with a lawsuit that claimed Republicans didn't provide proper public notice of a meeting that helped get the original legislation approved after Democratic senators fled the state to prevent a vote.

Walker claimed that the law, which also requires public employees to pay more for their health care and pensions, would 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.

"The Supreme Court's ruling provides our state the opportunity to move forward together and focus on getting Wisconsin working again," Walker said in a one-sentence statement Tuesday.

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, because legal challenges couldn't be brought until the law took effect.

The fight stemmed from a lawsuit that claimed Republicans violated state law by not providing proper public notice of a meeting in March, a month after the legislation was introduced.

All 14 of the state's Democratic senators had fled to Illinois in February to try to prevent a vote in the Senate, but Republicans got around that by convening a special committee to remove fiscal elements from the bill and allow a vote with fewer members present.

Walker signed the plan into law two days later, on March 11.

Published: Thu, Jun 16, 2011

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