Examining Judicial Activism on Act 10

By Josiah Cantrall

Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

Act 10 and the collective bargaining debate are back. Despite losing their case before the Supreme Court, public unions were still unwilling to accept defeat. They filed a lawsuit in Dane County and hoped an activist judge would dare to challenge the authority of the state’s highest court.

Judge Juan Colas was just such a man.

In his ruling he determined Act 10 violates a union’s constitutional right to freedom of speech, association, and equal protection. Exactly how does this make sense? Act 10 hasn’t taken away any of their rights, it simply changes public unions contract with their employers (a.k.a. The taxpayer). Unions are still free to say whatever they want and protest whenever they want. Their right to equal protection under the law hasn’t changed either. Act 10 doesn’t limit what unions can say or do, it does, however, limit their ability to always get what they want.

That is what Judge Colas took issue with. He concluded that because unions are no longer able to achieve their desired goals, whatever interferes with those goals is unconstitutional. Ironically, he openly admitted, it’s, “undisputed that there is no constitutional right to collective bargaining.” Colas made no attempt to hide his personal bias and he went on to say his ruling was dependent solely on his own interpretations. By freely admitting his use of personal interpretation rather than the constitution, Colas has given credibility to charges of bias and judicial activism.

Though liberals could care less how the judge reached his ruling, independents will undoubtedly be more skeptical. A county judge should not be able over-ride legislation passed by both legislative bodies, signed by the Governor, and upheld by the state’s highest court. As if this weren’t enough, the legislation was supported once again by voters when they soundly rejected a re-call of Governor Walker. County judges have jurisdiction over a specific county and not the entire state. They should not be able to issue rulings that circumvent and effectively overturn the decisions of higher courts.

By all accounts the unions have been fairly and repeatedly defeated. After months of endless political strife people simply want to move on. Act 10 led to a polarized culture of hate. It left the entire state angry and divided. Not only does Colas’s judicial activism force the issue back into the public discourse, but it could hedge liberals into a politically perilous corner. By challenging the democratic process and the authority of the state’s highest court, Colas has shown liberalism to be extreme and bitterly unaccepting of defeat. Wisconsinites will not forget.

Practically speaking, the reach of the Colas’s ruling is already being challenged. State-employee unions remain unchanged, but the effect on local governments is still unknown. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has already filed a motion to stay the ruling while it is being appealed. Because the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and the Wisconsin Supreme Court have already ruled in favor of nearly every component of Act 10, Colas’s ruling is not expected to stand.

Meanwhile, until all legal proceedings are concluded, certain communities may simply choose to ignore Judge Colas’s ruling. Judicial activism has become a hot button issue on the right, and at some point conservatives will grow weary of waiting on people in black robes to determine the legal way to live. Though some unions believe they can now return to the bargaining table, taxpayers may simply refuse to negotiate. Local governments may find Colas’s circuit court ruling non-binding because of the previous rulings of two higher courts.

Regardless, Wisconsin residents are weary of this issue and extremely annoyed by its continuation. No one wants to return to the days where protestors picketed their opponent’s homes and vandalized businesses. Act 10 was democratically passed into law and upheld by the state’s highest judiciary. Maybe it’s time for the Unions to turn on the old Mick Jagger song and listen to the lyrics, “You can’t always get what you want.”