A Dane County judge ruled the legislation to repeal the collective bargaining rights of public employees was approved in violation of open meetings laws when a state committee met to abruptly add amendments to the bill.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi said Thursday in a 33-page decision that legislative actions regarding Act 10 – the legislation that curtails union workers’ collective bargaining rights- carries “no force or effect.” The meeting on March 9, 2011 to pass the bill was in violation of the state’s open meetings law, the decision said.
The battle over the controversial legislation is likely to continue, however, as the issue reaches the next highest level of the courts.
Sumi’s decision is now subject to appeal and republican petitions for the Supreme Court to pick up the case are in the works, UW political science professor Howard Schweber said.
“There is a petition before the Supreme Court because republicans are accusing Judge Sumi of bias in her ruling,” Schweber said. “But the argument is more nuanced than it appears at first glance.”
In a letter to Sumi, Department of Justice attorneys alleged the judge previously took a stance on the legislation involved in the case, which is a violation of the judges’ Code of Ethics.
“In late March [the Department of Justice] submitted a request referred to us by the Department of Administration for the Supreme Court to pick up the case because Judge Sumi had [previously] made a public comment on the case,” Steven Means, spokesperson for Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said.
The Supreme Court received the request and will continue collecting opinions until June 6, when the court is scheduled to begin evaluating the case.
The Court of Appeals also submitted a request for the Supreme Court to pick up the case but for different reasons.
The request highlighted four previous court cases concerning the separation of power between the legislature and the courts, each offering perspectives on whether it was within Sumi’s jurisdiction to rule against a decision made by the legislature.
The request concluded by stating that skipping a lengthy Court of Appeals process would save the state money and the Supreme Court was the “proper forum” due to the significance of the case.
Sumi’s decision remains a final order, said Rep. Kelda Roys, D-Madison. She said while the case is likely to end up in the Supreme Court, she considers the facts of the case to be clear and said Sumi’s reasoning is sound.
Roys said she thinks Republican’s will have to start over but are likely to put the legislation in the Biennial budget bill to avoid voting directly on an issue which continues to draw heated response from citizens around the state.
“The bigger question is why didn’t Republicans just pass the legislation again following the rules more closely”? said Schweber. “The suspicion is that mounting pressures on Republican legislators meant they no longer had the votes to pass it.”
Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, said Republicans had the votes to pass the legislation.
“When you’ve done the right thing, it’s frustrating to be told by an ideologue judge that you have to do it again,” he said.
On Thursday, the 14 statements from politicians and non-profit organizations in support of Sumi’s ruling outweighed four issued in opposition.
Though it remains uncertain what the next action regarding Sumi’s decision will be, it is unlikely that her ruling will stand untouched, Schweber said.