The Wisconsin Supreme Court listened to arguments Monday over whether Act 10 is unconstitutional.
Gov. Walker’s law dismantled collective bargaining rights for most public workers.
The court must make two determinations. One is whether Act 10 should apply to local public employees, including teachers. The other decision is whether the state labor commission should remain in contempt of court for enforcing Act 10 because a circuit court judge struck it down.
Those who took the case to court – teachers and local workers, argue that Act 10 violates their rights to free speech and association. Republican Attorney General JB Van Hollen started-off Monday’s session. He defended the law.
“We find ourselves here today arguing oddly, I believe, that the collective bargaining provisions within Act 10 somehow violate the challengers’ constitutional rights. There is no basis in the law to support such a finding. It is certainly not a constitutional violation to limit the scope of collective bargaining since it is not a constitutional violation to eliminate collective bargaining as a whole,” Van Hollen says.
Supreme Court members asked questions of the attorneys throughout the hearing. Justice Ann Walsh Bradley pressed Van Hollen to clarify the definition of free association.
Bradley: “Do you acknowledge that there is a constitutional right to associate with regard to matters concerning wages and employment conditions, the right of an individual, a citizen to associate for purposes of matters concerning wages and employment conditions?”
Van Hollen: “With each other, yes, with the government under the confines of a statutory collective bargaining unit for the purposes of collective bargaining, absolutely not.”
Bradley: I see in this case that’s where the two ships are passing. Your opponents see the right of citizens to associate together for this purpose as a constitutional right of association. You take what the court of appeals calls the second way in which the term collective bargaining has been used and that is to refer to the statutory provisions.”
Van Hollen: Your honor, I don’t believe that is the case. I don’t believe the two ships pass in the night, I believe the two ships collide. The state has the bigger ship and we shall win.”
Van Hollen told the court, the state is being irreparably harmed - because it cannot fully enforce its law.
Circuit Judge Juan Colas struck it down and blocked enforcement. Despite his ruling, the state labor commission has continued to coordinate local union elections – as Act 10 requires. The judge, in turn, declared the commission in contempt of court.
Tamara Packard insists the judge acted within his rights. Packard represents Madison Teachers Inc., one of the plaintiffs fighting Act 10.
“If it’s been declared unconstitutional on its face, null and void and without effect as this circuit court’s original judgment ruled, they cannot act on something that is not law,” Packard says.
Packard urged the justices to keep the lower court order intact.
“The defendants, the WERC commissioners and Gov. Walker, have been acting in violation of the circuit court’s Sept. 14, 2012 judgment since this spring,” Packard says.
Because the federal courts have brushed aside challenges to Act 10, a similar ruling in the Wisconsin Supreme Court could end the court battles. If the plaintiffs prevail, attorneys representing state workers might challenge the law.
As for the current case, the justices expect to issue a ruling by summer but could decide parts of the case earlier.