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Federal appeals court upholds controversial Wisconsin collective bargaining law

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] on Friday upheld [opinion, PDF] Wisconsin's controversial Budget Repair Bill [Act 10, text] which significantly limits the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions. Two unions representing the city of Madison and Dane County public workers filed the lawsuit in 2011, alleging that the law violated their right to freely assembly and the right to equal protection. In September US District Judge William Conley found the law constitutional, and the three-judge panel for the Seventh Circuit unanimously affirmed. In the ruling, the appeals court said that the US Constitution does not require the state to maintain policies that allow certain associations to thrive, and therefore, Act 10 does not infringe on the constitutional rights of government workers to freedom of association or equal protection. Circuit Judge Joel Flaum, writing for the court, stated that the law "does not proscribe any conduct by the unions themselves. It does not prohibit the unions from forming. It does not forbid them from meeting. Nor does it prevent the unions from advocating on behalf of their members in any way they see fit." Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen [official website] called the ruling [press statement] a "victory for the law and for Wisconsin taxpayers." It is unclear if the unions will appeal the case to the US Supreme Court.

The Budget Repair Bill has been the subject of legal and political controversy since its passage. In January the Seventh Circuit upheld [JURIST report] a separate challenge to the law brought by Wisconsin's largest teachers' union, which claimed that Act 10 violated equal protection based on irrational division of unions into two categories. The Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association (WLEA) [union website] in November filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in the Dane County Circuit Court [official website] challenging its constitutionality specifically as it pertains to law enforcement unions on the grounds that it violates their associational, speech, petition, advocacy and equal protection rights. A Dane County Circuit Court judge struck down [JURIST report] the law as it applies to school district and local government workers in September. Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen filed an appeal [JURIST report] days later. In July the Wisconsin Supreme Court [official website] 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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