By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court is expected to issue highly anticipated decisions Thursday dealing with union rights, photo identification for voters and the state’s domestic partnership registry.
The court announced Tuesday that all three would be released on the same day.
Of the decisions, the ruling on Gov. Scott Walker’s law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers, a law known as Act 10, likely will have the largest impact. The case was brought by Madison teachers and a Milwaukee public workers union, arguing that the law violates workers’ constitutional rights to free assembly and equal protection under the law.
A Dane County judge in September 2012 found major portions of the law to be unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court agreed to take the case, bypassing the state appeals court. One issue pending is whether the earlier ruling applied only to the two unions that brought the lawsuit, or all public-sector unions. The unions claim it applies to all local unions statewide, while Walker’s administration claims it does not.
Walker’s collective bargaining law, passed by the Republican Legislature despite protests that grew as large as 100,000 people, prohibits public worker unions from collectively bargaining for anything beyond base wage increases based on inflation. It also bars automatic withdrawals from members’ paychecks and requires annual elections to see if members want their unions to go on representing them.
A federal appeals court has already upheld the law in its entirety in two separate lawsuits, and the state Supreme Court in 2011 said the Legislature did not violate the state’s open meetings law in passing the measure.
Anger over the law led to Walker’s 2012 recall election. The union fight and subsequent recall victory, the first for a governor in U.S. history, helped catapult Walker onto the national stage, putting him in the mix for a potential 2016 presidential bid. He’s running for re-election this year and is expected to face Democrat Mary Burke, a former state Commerce Department secretary and Trek Bicycle Corp. executive. Burke supports collective bargaining, but has not promised to attempt to overturn Act 10 if elected.
Decisions on a pair of cases about voter ID, another GOP initiative, are expected to have a limited impact because a federal court in April struck down Wisconsin’s law as unconstitutional. To reinstate the 2011 law, which has been on hold since 2012, the legal challenges in both state and federal court would have to be defeated. The cases before the Supreme Court were brought separately by the League of Women Voters and the NAACP.
And the effect of Thursday’s domestic registry decision will also be muted given that the state’s 2006 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by a federal court judge in June. That decision has been appealed and oral arguments are scheduled Aug. 26 in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Three years after voters approved the gay marriage ban, then-Gov. Jim Doyle and the then-Democratic controlled Legislature passed the domestic registry law, giving same-sex couples benefits such as hospital visitation rights. That law was challenged by the conservative group Wisconsin Family Action as a violation of the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.