Updated March 30, 5:15 p.m. ET
A federal judge in Wisconsin has ruled key parts of the state’s law restricting public employee union rights unconstitutional.
The decision was handed down by District Judge William N. Conley, who was nominated to the bench by President Obama in 2009, and confirmed by the Senate in 2010. Conley found that parts of Act 10 violate equal protection rights, the Wisconsin State Journal reports, by imposing restrictions to collective bargaining and mandatory dues collections, and requiring annual recertification on most unions but exempting them for police and firefighters.
In response, Conley has handed down an injunction requiring a return to automatic dues collections, and forbidding the annual mandatory recertification elections by an absolute majority of workforce members.
Conley wrote: “So long as the state of Wisconsin continues to afford ordinary certification and dues deductions to mandatory public safety unions with sweeping bargaining rights, there is no rational basis to deny those rights to voluntary general unions with severely restricted bargaining rights.”
When asked for comment, Gov. Scott Walker’s official spokesman Cullen Werwie told TPM: “Today, Judge Conley affirmed the constitutionality of nearly everything in Act 10. We are confident that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals will continue to uphold the constitutionality of the law.”
Walker has said that these unions were exempted because the state could not risk strikes or breakdowns in these critical services. But some Democrats have charged that there was another reason — some of those union locals had supported Walker in the 2010 election, while all of the targeted unions such as teachers and other public employees had opposed him.
In the full opinion (via WisPolitics), Conley very specifically calls out this aspect. The key quote, with emphasis in the original:
The fact that none of the public employee unions falling into the general category endorsed Walker in the 2010 election and that all of the unions that endorsed Walker fall within the public safety category certainly suggests that unions representing general employees have different viewpoints than those of the unions representing public safety employees. Moreover, Supreme Court jurisprudence and the evidence of record strongly suggests that the exemption of those unions from Act 10’s prohibition on automatic dues deductions enhances the ability of unions representing public safety employees to continue to support this Governor and his party.
Earlier on Friday, state election officials took the final action to trigger the recall election against Walker. The primaries will be on May 8, and the general election on June 5.
State Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate released this statement on Conley’s ruling:
“Scott Walker’s so-called budget repair bill has been divisive, unfair, radical and offensive to the values of Wisconsin. Now it’s been found to be offensive to the Constitution. Wisconsin deserved better than this bill, just as it deserves better than Scott Walker.”