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Capitol Report – Poetic justice from the courts

By State Representative, Leon D. Young

Leon D. Young

Last Friday was a big day for city, county, and school workers in Wisconsin . A Dane County Judge, Juan Colas, struck down certain provisions of Scott Walker’s collective bargaining law as being unconstitutional. Judge Colas ruled that the law violated workers’ constitutional rights by denying to union workers certain powers available to their nonunion counterparts. Hence, the law that permits collective bargaining reverts back to its original status before Walker signed his union-busting measure into effect in March 2011. It is important to note that the court conceded that there’s no constitutional right to collective bargaining. Rather, Judge Colas in his judicial opinion took exception with the state law because it violates local government and school workers’ right to free speech, association, and equal protection.

Under Walker ’s power grab attempt, both state and local governments were prohibited from bargaining over anything besides a cost of living salary adjustment. Other issues such as health benefits, pensions, workplace safety and other work rules were strictly off limits. (Unfortunately, the law remains largely in force for state workers, even though a federal judge struck down part of that section of the law as well earlier this year.)

Reaction from the Conservative Right has been swift as well as predictable. 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.”

The state will undoubtedly appeal this decision and, based on what the Wisconsin Supreme Court did in June of last year, this recent decision by Judge Colas will most certainly be reversed too. But, state and federal courts around the country have delivered a series of defeats to central parts of the Republican agenda implemented after the party’s sweeping victories in federal and state elections in November 2010.

Moreover, a growing number of critics now say the newly empowered, GOP-led state legislatures went too far – with voter ID laws, immigration laws, redistricting laws, and efforts to curtail public workers’ collective bargaining rights. This raises a very interesting question: Did Republicans overreach in Wisconsin , or did Judge Colas?