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Wisconsin Union Law Ruling Prompts State Justice Department To Ask Court To Lift Ban

Wisconsin Union Law Ruling

TODD RICHMOND   05/27/11 08:03 PM ET   AP

MADISON, Wis. — State attorneys asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday to immediately vacate a Madison judge's decision striking down Republican Gov. Scott Walker's contentious collective bargaining law.

Judge Maryann Sumi invalidated the law on Thursday after finding Republican legislators violated Wisconsin's open records law during the run-up to passage in March. The decision came in a lawsuit Democratic Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne filed challenging the law.

The state Justice Department is representing the Republicans. The agency's attorneys asked the state Supreme Court to take the case and the court set oral arguments on whether it should make a move for June 6. Deputy Attorney General Kevin St. John said in a letter to the justices late Friday they need to act now.

St. John said the issues have been fully briefed so the court can immediately vacate Sumi's decision without hearing any further argument.

He argued Sumi issued the decision on her own, even though no one involved in the case had asked for such a ruling. She didn't give any of the parties a chance to be heard on the final disposition.

He also reiterated the Justice Department's argument that the Republicans can't be sued because they enjoy legislative immunity and Sumi can't invalidate the law due to an open meetings violation.

"In its rush to judgment, the Circuit Court has exceeded its constitutional authority not only in terms of intermeddling with the legislative process ... but also by its deprivation of the defendants' due process rights," St. John wrote.

Ozanne didn't immediately return a message left at his office late Friday afternoon.

The law calls for public workers to contribute more to their health care and pensions. It also strips almost all of them of nearly all their collective bargaining rights.

Walker pushed for the law as a way to help balance a $3.6 billion deficit in the upcoming 2011-13 state budget. He said curtailing collective bargaining rights would give local governments the flexibility they need to absorb deep cuts in state aid.

The measure sent Democrats into an outrage. They saw the proposal as an attempt to weaken unions, one of their key constituencies. Senate Democrats fled the state in February in an attempt to block a vote in that house and tens of thousands of demonstrators converged on the state Capitol in protests that went on around the clock for three weeks.

Republican lawmakers got around the Senate Democrats' absence by convening a special committee to strip the fiscal elements out of the bill, negating the need for a full quorum, and Walker signed the measure in March.

But Ozanne alleged the Republicans didn't give the proper public notice of the committee meeting, and Sumi agreed on Thursday.

Regardless of how the court battle plays out, Republicans could pass the collective bargaining provisions again by tucking them into the budget. The Legislature's finance committee is still revising the spending plan.

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Associated Press writer Jason Smathers contributed to this report.

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