By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan B. Colas has practically stood alone in his ruling that Act 10 — Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial reforms to public sector collective bargaining — is unconstitutional.
That solitary judgment is about to be tested by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The state’s highest court, which has a conservative majority, will begin hearing oral arguments on the matter at 10:45 a.m. Monday.
But several union groups are not allowed to participate due to time issues.
The Supreme Court on Friday denied the motions of several unions to take part in the oral arguments, ruling those organizations tried to intervene in the case too late.
“Intervention at this late stage will cause delay in the case that has been waiting for our review since June 14, 2013,” court documents issued by the conservative majority say.
The liberal minority said blocking some unions from participating “contravenes our practice and principles of fair play, justice and fundamental fairness enshrined in the adversarial nature of court proceedings and oral argument.”
The plaintiffs and defendants will have 45 minutes Monday to argue the topics they choose to address.
The plaintiffs — Madison Teachers Inc. and Public Employees Local 61 of Milwaukee — contend that Act 10 violates the constitutional associational and equal protection rights of workers they represent, a claim upheld by Colas in 2012.
Even though many other courts have declared Wisconsin’s collective bargaining law constitutional, Colas has stubbornly stuck to his guns.
That judge also issued a ruling recently holding the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission in contempt of court for continuing to implement Act 10.
The WERC had planned to hold re-certification elections this month for more than 400 government unions representing nearly 60,000 employees.
The Court of Appeals on Nov. 4 upheld the Circuit Court’s denial of the state’s motion to stay the contempt order.
Madison Teachers Inc. and Public Employees Local 61 are operating under extended contracts that were signed quickly following Colas’ 2012 ruling.
But the state continued to implement Act 10 for other government unions under the presumption the Circuit Court’s decision applied only to the parties involved in the court case.
The state also insists that because public employees have no constitutional right to collectively bargain, it makes no sense to say Act 10 unconstitutionally burdens the rights of public workers who chose to participate in statutory collective bargaining.
According to the state, Act 10 doesn’t impose any restrictions on any public employee’s right to speak, assemble or petition government and, therefore, doesn’t infringe on any associational rights of public workers.
A number of other courts, both state and federal, have upheld Act 10 in its entirety.
But not Colas, who in October 2012 denied the state’s motion for a stay, pending an appeal.
The Court of Appeals in March rejected the state’s motion for relief, pending an appeal. It concluded the Circuit Court acted within its discretion in denying the stay.
The Court of Appeals certified the case April 25.
“We certify this appeal because of its sweeping statewide effect on public employers, public employees, and taxpayers and because of the need to clarify and develop law relating to associational rights and the home-rule authority of municipalities,” the Court of Appeals wrote.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court will deliberate the Act 10 case — probably in closed conference — once oral arguments have concluded, court information officer Tom Sheehan said.
Sheehan noted it’s impossible to predict how long it will take for the court to make a final ruling.
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen didn’t have much to say about the case.
“We look forward to defending the law and the opportunity the court has given us to do so,” Van Hollen said in a statement.
A decision by the Supreme Court is expected to clarify the effect of Act 10 and provide guidance to public employers and employees on how to approach collective bargaining, according to court documents.
It also may help settle other pending cases spawned from Act 10 and possibly reduce future litigation on similar issues.
Contact Adam Tobias at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Scoop_Tobias