Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds Collective Bargaining Law, Reversing Court Ruling Striking It Down

In a 4-to-3 vote, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has upheld the state’s new law limiting collective bargaining with government-employee unions. As the Heritage Foundation’s Hans Von Spakovsky notes, the trial judge who erroneously struck down the law earlier — Maryann Sumi — “should have recused herself from the case to avoid the appearance of bias. Her son is a former lead field manager with the AFL-CIO and data manager for the SEIU State Council, two unions that not only represent public employees in Wisconsin but were instrumental in organizing protests against the passage of the collective bargaining law.”

As Spakovsky notes, in addition to violating constitutional separation-of-powers principles in her ruling, Judge Sumi also erred in uncritically accepting two “false claims that had been made by unions and Democrats protesting the new collective bargaining law,” which the Wisconsin Supreme Court properly rejected. The justices held that the legislature had not violated a section of the Wisconsin Constitution that requires the “doors of each house” to be kept open “except when the public welfare shall require secrecy,” since “the doors of the senate and assembly were kept open to the press and members of the public during the enactment of the Act,” as was the senate parlor where the joint committee on conference met.  WisconsinEye, the state’s local version of C-SPAN, had even broadcast all of the proceedings live. “These were inconvenient facts that Judge Sumi had ignored. The Court concluded that there is no constitutional requirement that access be provided ‘to as many members of the public as wish to attend meetings.’ Finally, the Court held that the legislature had not violated the state’s open meeting law when the joint committee on conference met. Sumi had claimed that the law required 24-hours notice of the meeting. But it was undisputed that the legislature had posted notices of the meeting one hour and 50 minutes before its start in compliance with its own, internal procedural rules,” which can carve out exceptions in certain circumstances to the general 24-hour notice requirement — and in any event, the courts lacked jurisdiction to “review the validity” of the legislature’s interpretation of its own internal rules.

I earlier discussed additional reasons why Judge Sumi was wrong to issue an injunction blocking the collective bargaining law.

To justify collective bargaining with government-employee unions, Wisconsin union supporters, such as the Democratic National Committee, falsely claimed that Virginia, which bans collective bargaining in state agencies, ranks 44th in the nation in ACT/SAT scores, compared to Wisconsin ranking 2nd. In reality, Virginia actually beat Wisconsin in ACT scores in 2010, with Virginia ranked 12th and Wisconsin ranked 17th. Unlike Wisconsin, Virginia is a right-to-work state that bars forcing employees to pay union dues.