A throng of thousands in Madison, Wis., erupted in cheers upon learning of Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas’ ruling this Friday that Act 10 — Gov. Scott Walker’s law aimed at stripping public employees of meaningful rights to union representation — violated state and federal constitutional protections for free speech, association and equal protection. The judge struck down provisions of Act 10 in relation to municipal and educational employees, though not state employees.
The Madison crowd was assembled for the 12-year-old, annual Fighting Bob Fest, which takes its name from the state’s legendary progressive governor Robert M. La Follette Senior. This weekend’s festival marked the first major gathering of progressives in Wisconsin since the failed effort to recall Walker in June.
Walker raised the ire of labor and liberals with his 2011 plan to “drop the bomb” on public workers by crushing their unions. He privately described the move as part of a “divide-and-conquer” strategy to play off private-sector workers’ resentment against their public-sector counterparts.
Gov. Walker’s Act 10 had explosive reverberations: It triggered a six week siege of the State Capitol in Madison by crowds of at least 100,000. This spring, an exhaustive effort by progressives gathered more than one million signatures demanding a June 5 election recall — nearly matching Walker’s winning vote total in 2010. But Walker’s massive fund-raising advantage of about 7‑to‑1 and the enormous TV ad campaign it bought sufficed to swamp the grassroots organizing and allow the governor to hold on to office.
In the wake of the disappointing recall failure, Colas’ ruling served as a major morale booster for the Fighting Bob crowd. “The crowd love it when we announced at the start that Act 10 had been rule unconsitutional,” says Madison labor attorney and festival founder Ed Garvey.
But the ruling isn’t the last word on Act 10. The case will now go to the state’s Supreme Court, which already voted 4 – 3 to uphold the law earlier this year after a federal judge in March tossed out provisions clearly designed to make maintenance of union membership as burdensome as possible. The debate among state Supreme Court justices in that instance was so bitter that Justice David Prosser, Walker ally, was accused by several witnesses of choking fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley before the vote.
Give this, Garvey sounded a cautionary note in his Fighting Bob speech: “We all know how David Prosser is going to vote. This is a reminder of how important Supreme Court elections are to the people of Wisconsin.”
Daily Kos, too, has warned labor and progressives against excessive celebration of the Colas decision, noting the limited nature of the ruling and Gov. Walker’s determination to end the state’s 70-year tradition of public-employee rights by any means necessary.
Walker, true to form, responded to the ruling by claiming that his June 5 recall victory constituted a mandate for Act 10’s extreme limits on public-employee rights. He expressed smug certainty that the Colas ruling would be tossed out:
“Sadly a liberal activist judge in Dane County wants to go backwards and take away the lawmaking responsibilities of the legislature and the governor. We are confident that the state will ultimately prevail in the appeals process.”