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By Ruth Conniff
The conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued decisions today upholding the state’s voter I.D. law and Act 10, which ended most collective bargaining rights for most public employees.
“This wasn’t unanticipated,” said Lester Pines, attorney for Madison Teachers, Inc., about the Court’s collective bargaining decision.
Earlier this year, the same conservative majority signaled its opinion when it dissolved a contempt finding by a lower court, which had ordered the state to stop forcing recertification elections on unions even after the lower court had held that such elections were unconstitutional.
“The unions have had three years to lives with this law,” said Pines. “They will regroup and reorganize.”
“Why operate under an act that forces you to constantly recertify, and allows you to do nothing for your members but negotiate on cost of living?” Pines said. “Forget about it. Find a different mechanism.”
Walker’s hostility to public employees, his radical appointees, and the radical rightwing legislature have forced unions into a different era that requires different tactics, Pines said.
Those include political organizing and working with local governments to create ordinances, personnel policies, and employee handbooks.
“As a result of his televised pledge to divide and conquer public employees, Governor Walker has destroyed the longstanding positive process of employers and employees working together in negotiations,” MTI executive director John Matthews said in a statement. “Working conditions as a result have been rolled back to the mid-1950s by some regressive public employers."
In a scathing dissent written by Justice Ann Walsh Bradley and joined by Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, Bradley criticized the conservative majority for simply not addressing the issues in the case and instead writing a decision that “reframes” the argument “dodges” the main issue—that Act 10 violates public employees’ freedom of speech, freedom of association, and the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, because it treats different classes of public employees differently.
“The majority’s failure to address the actual issues presented in this case allows it to reach results that countenance the needless diminution of multiple Constitutional rights,” Bradley wrote.
“The conservative majority on the Supreme Court acted in lockstep in support of Governor Walker and his right-wing financiers, the coalition of the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, and the Wisconsin Club for Growth,” said Matthews.
It is “appalling,” Matthews added, “that most of the justices in the majority were elected as a result of extensive political advertising by these groups.”
He noted the 3-to-3 split decision by the Court on whether to reprimand Justice Gableman, the author of today’s Act 10 decision, because of false claims he made during his campaign for his seat on the court, in issue ads paid for with millions of dollars poured into the race by outside interests including the Koch brothers and Club for Growth.
Another issue not discussed by the Governor or the Court when it upheld Act 10 is that "a teacher's working conditions are a child's learning conditions," said Matthews.
Wisconsin is second only to Alabama in cuts to state aid to education, he pointed out. "Walker's goal is to starve public education until it fails, and then to enable his corporate donors to privatize it for profit."
On the voter ID issue, the court ruled against the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters, who argued that the law deprives citizens of their fundamental right to vote.
This decision did come as a surprise, said Lester Pines.
“If you read the majority opinion, they find that there is a de facto poll tax. Justice Roggensack expressed concern about people having to spend money to vote,” said Pines. “And then they come up with a jerry-rigged, complicated interpretation to get around that. “
“It is shocking to me that they did not find this was a barrier to a fundamental right and didn’t kick it back to the legislature and say, ‘Do it over.’”
“To apply a standard of deference to the legislature when laws affect fundamental rights is very dangerous,” Pines added.
The suspicion that voter I.D. is really an effort to suppress votes by minorities, students, and the poor is strengthened by the lack of evidence that in-person voter fraud is actually a problem.
As the NAACP’s attorney Richard Saks pointed out to the Court, there has not been a single case of such voter fraud charged in Wisconsin.