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Federal judge upholds controversial Wisconsin collective bargaining law

A federal judge on Wednesday ruled [opinion, PDF] that Wisconsin's controversial collective bargaining law [Budget Repair Bill, text] is constitutional. Judge William Conley for the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin [official website] held that even if public employees have the right to associate, that right does not require employers to listen. He reasoned that the law does not prohibit employees to engage in collective bargaining but merely requires employers not to listen. Conley also accepted the argument that treating represented employees differently than unrepresented employees does not violate the Equal Protection Clause. He agreed that the differential treatment is "rationally related to Act 10's purpose of giving 'local governments the tools necessary to manage impending revenue reductions.'" It is still unclear whether the decision is going to be appealed.

The Budget Repair Bill has been the subject of legal and political controversy since its passage. In April a judge for the Dane County Circuit Court [official website] allowed [JURIST report] a lawsuit to proceed, despite objections from the state's Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website]. The Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association (WLEA) [union website], a public sector union, filed the lawsuit [JURIST report] in November, contending that the Budget Repair Bill's limitations on unions' collective bargaining rights violates unions' association, speech, petition, advocacy and equal protection rights. In January 2012 the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] upheld the law [JURIST report] as a constitutional exercise of power. A Dane County Circuit Court judge struck down [JURIST report] the law as it applies to school district and local government workers in September of last year. Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen filed an appeal [JURIST report] days later. In July 2012 the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to reopen a case challenging the Budget Repair Bill because of a justice's refusal to recuse himself [JURIST report]. The Supreme Court's upholding of Act 10 in June 2011 overturned a Dane County Circuit Court's decision [JURIST reports] that struck down the law for violations of the open meetings rule.

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