The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in favor of Governor Scott Walker and the state’s legislators who passed the controversial union law that captivated the nation last February and March. Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi previously ruled that the Legislature violated the state’s open meetings law in approving the bill. The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Judge Sumi’s decision, ruling she had no authority to interfere with the legislative process. But this matter is about much more than a controversial state-level law and its meanderings through the court process. The original law itself, and its ultimate victory in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, has everything to do with elections.
In 2010, millions of Americans went to the ballot box and handed Democrats across the country election defeats at all levels. The GOP took control of the U.S. House of Representatives, won 29 gubernatorial elections, and established Republican majorities in several state legislatures. Exasperated with out-of-control spending and busted budgets, among other reasons, people wanted a change. The 2010 elections gave the GOP the mandate to effect change from the top down and laterally across the states.
In early 2011, Gov Scott Walker lived up to his campaign promise of pushing for legislation that would finally slow down the public sector union gravy train and empower local governments to negotiate with unions. We all know the results: tens of thousands of well-organized protestors and union thugs descended on Madison while a dozen or so Democratic lawmakers fled the scene of the crime to stall the legislative process. The law passed in March, and it was quickly struck down by a County Judge.
Everyone knew that Judge Sumi’s decision carried little weight. A County Judge seemed ill-placed to issue a ruling that impacted a statewide law, not to mention her clear interference with the legislative process. It was a matter of time before the issue would receive the attention it deserved at the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Only one thing seemed to stand in the way: the election of a Supreme Court Justice. David Prosser was a sitting judge on the state’s Supreme Court, and his re-election was all but guaranteed until he was challenged by Democratic Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg.
It was a nail-biter election, but in the end Judge Prosser won despite massive union weight and millions of dollars thrown toward Kloppenburg. Prosser won by a relatively close margin. The Wisconsin State Supreme Court decision was 4-3, along party lines. Had Prosser lost, and had Kloppenburg won, it would have been 4-3 against Gov Scott Walker. Every vote for Prosser was important.
Elections matter. All elections. Many Wisconsin legislators who voted for the law that achieved its recent victory face recalls. Their fate rests in the hands of the electorate. Many states where GOP majorities are pushing through similar legislation or right-to-work laws will look to the Supreme Court decision in Wisconsin as a source of inspiration. Every election has consequences, and the lessons from Wisconsin should serve as a reminder to all Americans that this precious right is one to be exercised as much as it is to be cherished.
Mike Angley is the award-winning author of the thriller series, the Child Finder trilogy. He is a retired USAF Colonel and 25-year career Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI). Follow him on Twitter: @MikeAngley, FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/mike.angley, and visit his website: www.mikeangley.com.