MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court handed Republican Gov. Scott Walker a major victory on Tuesday, ruling that a polarizing union law could take effect that strips most public employees of their collective bargaining rights.
In a 4-3 decision, the court ruled that Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi overstepped her authority when she said Republican lawmakers violated the state’s open meetings statutes in the run-up to passage of the legislation and declared the law void.
The law, which also requires public employees to pay more for their health care and pensions, sparked weeks of protests when Walker introduced it in February. Tens of thousands of demonstrators occupied the state Capitol for weeks and Democratic senators fled the state to prevent a vote, thrusting Wisconsin to the forefront of a national debate over labor rights.
In a one-sentence reaction to the ruling, the governor said: “The Supreme Court’s ruling provides our state the opportunity to move forward together and focus on getting Wisconsin working again.”
Walker has claimed that the law was needed to help address the state’s $3.6 billion budget shortfall and give local governments enough flexibility on labor costs to deal with deep cuts to state aid. Democrats saw it as an attack on public employee unions, which usually back their party’s candidates.
The Supreme Court’s ruling will likely be the precursor to an avalanche of lawsuits and legal challenges that couldn’t be brought until the law took effect.
The decision came just hours before the Wisconsin Assembly was expected to begin debating the state budget. Had the ruling not come down, Republicans planned to put the collective bargaining provisions into the budget so the changes could take effect during the court fight.
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