Two Wisconsin unions filed a motion with a Madison judge Tuesday challenging the governor’s collective bargaining law and deeming it unconstitutional.
According to the Dane County Clerk of Courts office, Madison Teachers Inc. and Public Employees Local 61, AFL-CIO initially brought the lawsuit against Gov. Scott Walker in August.
The Clerk of Court’s office said former Dane County Judge Patrick Fiedler was assigned the case in August, despite the fact he was set to retire in September. Fiedler’s staff is continuing to work on the lawsuit and will pass it on to a different judge at an undetermined future date.
Common Cause in Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck said in most cases, courts clearly express any doubts they have about unconstitutional language to legislators and governors early on in the process. According to Heck, overturning legislation in cases similar to what is being brought up by the unions is rare.
“The two unions that filed the lawsuit claim that the collective bargaining law treats public and private employees differently and is therefore unconstitutional,” Heck said. “That’s the base for a lot of lawsuits, and it is always the job of the courts to sort out whether this is a legitimate claim.”
Andrew Welhouse, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said in an email to The Badger Herald that the collective bargaining law was passed legally. According to Welhouse, the law has created a balanced budget and real savings throughout Wisconsin.
“We’ve been down this road before with Judge Sumi; there is no reason to think it’s going to be any different this time around,” Welhouse said in the email. “It is disappointing to see some people so strongly opposed to balanced budgets and fiscal discipline like this. They should know that you can’t sue your way into a balanced budget.”
Heck explained the potential course of the bill, saying it would start at the Dane County Circuit Court and move to a state court of appeals or even all the way up to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
“Most would suspect that [the Supreme Court] would vote against the lawsuit because of the 4-3 conservative majority,” Heck said. “It seems to be fairly predictable how they will vote on issues, at least this year.”
Heck also spoke about the chances of the lawsuit succeeding.
According to him, there have been instances in the past where legislators have proposed unconstitutional laws overturned by courts. Heck expressed uncertainty about whether the courts would uphold constitutionality in this particular case.
“I don’t know how the court will view it because it’s a rather broad category they are suing over,” Heck said. “I just know what you often see people resort to. You might get a favorable response or you might not.”
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, could not be reached for comment, but his office reaffirmed both he and Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, are currently circulating a bill in the Legislature aiming to restore the collective bargaining rights lost in Walker’s bill.