Supreme Court Upholds Collective Bargaining Legislation–Rules Judge Sumi Violated the Constitution by Striking Down Legislation

In a 4-3 decision on Tuesday June 15, 2011, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued an order allowing the controversial collective bargaining law to go into effect. The Supreme Court overturned Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi’s decision to block the implementation of the law. The Supreme Court found in its ruling that Judge Sumi exceeded her authority in enjoining publication of the collective bargaining changes.

The majority granted the request to take original jurisdiction in the case because Judge Sumi, “has usurped the legislative power which the Wisconsin Constitution grants exclusively to the legislature” and that the “legislature shall provide by law for the speedy publication of all laws.”

The court also ruled that the Wisconsin Legislature did not violate a provision of the state constitution that requires the doors of each house of the Legislature be open unless “the public welfare shall require secrecy.” During oral arguments on June 6, the Justices spent a significant amount of time ascertaining the meaning of this provision through a series of questions. The Justices also asked many questions regarding the facts of the case, specifically focusing on the issue of public access or the alleged lack thereof.

District Attorney Ismael Ozanne charged that members of the public who wished to have access to the meeting were denied access. In response to this argument, the majority concluded, “[t]here is no constitutional requirement that the legislature provide access to as many members of the public as wish to attend meetings of the legislature or meetings of legislative committees.” The Wisconsin Constitution merely requires the meetings be open.

In his concurrence, Justice Prosser thought lawmakers had good reason to pass the bill the way they did, “[t]he circuit court concluded that the legislature should have provided public notice of the special session conference committee 24 hours in advance… [t]he court did not acknowledge that thousands of demonstrators stormed and occupied the state Capitol within a few hours of the notice that a conference committee meeting would be held.”

The dissent offered harsh criticisms of the majority’s opinion calling it “a hasty judgment” “based on errors of fact and law” where the “answers are not clear and the precedent conflicting.” In her dissent, Chief Justice Abrahamson views Justice Prosser’s concurrence as having a “partisan slant.”

In the majority were Justice Michael Gableman, Justice Annette Ziegler, Justice Patience Roggensack and Justice David Prosser. Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Justice Patrick Crooks joined Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson in the dissent.
Secretary of State Doug LaFollette is set to publish the law on June 28, and the law will become effective June 29.

Read the complete decision here.

This post was authored by Hamilton Consulting Group’s intern Lane Oling, a 2L at the University of Wisconsin Law School.