NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I’ve blogged before about the frustrations that conservatives must feel when the courts seem to block the most basic parts of their agenda. They win at the ballot box, onto to be thwarted by the lower levels of the judiciary.
I’ve also blogged that the constitutionality of state laws should not be decided by circuit court judges in Dane County. They do not represent the entire state; they should not be able to issue rulings that impact the entire state. A challenge to the validity of a state law should be heard at the state appeals court level, with any further appeals going directly to the state Supreme Court.
Against the backdrop, here are some more thoughts on Friday’s ruling striking down Act 10.
These local judges should, at a minimum, stay their rulings. The groups for issuing a stay are either that one side is likely to win on appeal (that would be a judgment call), or that one side is irreparably harmed by the ruling (that is the case here). If every school district that’s in the middle of contract talks is now thrown into chaos, if teachers will next argue that earlier changes are invalid, if taxes are going up because the collective-bargaining landscape has changed again – indeed there would be irreparable harm. This is a case where the ruling should be on-hold until further review.
Attorney General JB Van Hollen, who has been very capable at defending these laws, needs to be faster and more aggressive with the appeals process. This latest Act 10 appeal should be offered directly to the state Supremes. School budgets are being finalized in October; tax bills go out a month later. Everyone needs to know the lay of the land.
There are some parts of this appeal that are certain to be overturned. Unions have not been denied their rights to speak or assemble. That a county judge could rule otherwise shows that he’s trying to shoehorn a political agenda into a legal ruling. But the equal protection question is more complicated. Is it unconstitutional for teachers unions to be treated differently than local police unions? I would argue they’re already treated differently, and that an equal protection argument doesn’t apply. Teachers negotiate their contracts with school boards. Prison guards negotiate with the state. Local police and fire negotiate with municipalities or a local police and fire commission. The unions are already fundamentally different because there are different entites on the other side of the negotiating table. And the state has the right to set ground rules, through a law like Act 10, for those talks.
These issues are not going to be resolved through my commentary, or by a ruling from a Dane County circuit judge. Everyone deserves certainty and finality on these issues that are critical to state finances. Let’s get a ruling from Wisconsin’s highest court, sooner rather than later.