State Supreme Court Issues High-Profiled Decisions: Act 10, Voter ID, Same-Sex Partnerships

On Thursday, July 31, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued four highly anticipated opinions determining whether: 1) Gov. Walker’s signature law, Act 10, was unconstitutional, 2) the voter photo identification law was unconstitutional, and 3) the law creating a same-sex partnership was unconstitutional.

In each of the cases, the Court upheld the laws ruling that they did not violate the Constitution. Below is a summary of each decision.


Court Upholds Final Challenge to Act 10 – Collective Bargaining Law

In a 5-2 decision (Madison Teachers, Inc. v. Walker), the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the final challenges to Gov. Walker’s signature law (Act 10) dealing with collective bargaining and public unions. The majority decision was authored by Justice Gableman, and joined by Justices Roggensack, Prosser, Ziegler. Justice Crooks issued a separate concurring opinion. Justice Bradley wrote a dissenting opinion, and was joined by Chief Justice Abrahamson.

The lawsuit challenged a number of provisions of Act 10. The Court held that the law did not violate:

  • the First Amendment and did not infringe upon public employees’ constitutional right to freedom of association;
  • equal protection under the Constitution;
  • the “home rule” amendment; and
  • the Contract Clause.


Voter Photo ID – League of Women Voters v. Walker and NAACP v. Walker

League of Women Voters v. Walker, the Court held that the “legislature did not exceed its authority under Article III of the Wisconsin Constitution when it required electors to present [a photo] identification.” The Court concluded that requiring a voter to present a photo ID in order to vote “is not an additional elector qualification.” The Court also held that the law’s requirement to present a photo ID comes within the legislature’s authority to enact laws providing for the registration of electors under Article III, Section of the Wisconsin Constitution because the photo ID requirement “is the mode by which election officials verify that a potential voter is the elector listed on the registration list.”

Justice Roggensack authored the opinion, and was joined by Justices Prosser, Ziegler, and Gableman. Justice Crooks issued a separate concurring opinion. Chief Justice Abrahamson authored a dissenting opinion, and was joined by Justice Bradley. In her stinging dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Abrahamson accused the majority of invoking Jim Crow laws used in the South during the last century to restrict the rights of African-Americans to vote.

In the second case (Milwaukee Branch of NAACP v. Walker), the court held that the “the burdens of time and inconvenience associated with obtaining [a photo] identification are not undue burdens on the right to vote and do not render the law invalid.” Citing a similar U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court noted that “the inconvenience of making a trip to [a state motor vehicle office], gathering the required documents, and posing for a photograph surely does not qualify as a substantial burden on the right to vote.”

The decision was authored by Justice Roggensack, and joined by Justices Prosser, Ziegler, and Gableman. Justice Crooks authored a dissenting opinion and was joined by Justice Bradley. Chief Justice Abrahamson authored a separate dissenting opinion.


Court Unanimously Upholds Domestic Partnership for Same-Sex Couples

In 2006, Wisconsin voters amended the state constitution by inserting two sentences: “Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal statute identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.” (Art. XIII, Sec. 13, Wisconsin Constitution.)

In 2009, the Wisconsin Legislature enacted Wis. Stat. § Chap. 770, which created the legal status of domestic partnership for same-sex couples. The plaintiffs in the case challenged the law as a violation of the Art. XIII, Sec. 13 of the Constitution.

In a unanimous decision (Appling v. Walker), the Court upheld Chap. 770 and ruled that it did not violate the constitutional provision. The Court reasoned that there are “important statutory distinctions in the way the state treats marriage and domestic partnerships and important differences in the lists of benefits and obligations that inhere to the two types of relationships.” Therefore, based on these differences, the Court held that the plaintiffs failed to “overcome the presumption that Chapter 770 is constitutional.”