Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's plan to weaken state employee unions hit a legal speed bump today when a judge blocked it—at least temporarily.
Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi issued a temporary restraining order barring publication of the new law until she can rule whether Republicans who rushed it through the legislature—while 14 Democratic Senators camped out in Illinois--violated Wisconsin's open meetings law.
The judge's ruling is a setback for Walker, whose office issued this statement, "This legislation is still working through the legal process. We are confident the provisions of the budget repair bill will become law in the near future."
Today's decision puts the law on hold until after March 28, the earliest Judge Sumi said she would rule on the merits of two lawsuits, initiated by Democratic officials, contending that a special conference committee passed the controversial law without giving the required 24 hours notice.
"Judge Sumi confirmed today what we knew all along – that the bill stripping hundreds of thousands of hard working Wisconsinites of their voice on the job was rammed through illegally in the dark of the night," said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO.
The law that passed after weeks of passionate protests in Madison has set off legal—and political—skirmishes throughout the state. Both sides in the dispute are airing television commercials and recall efforts are underway against as many as 16 Wisconsin state senators, Republicans and Democrats alike.
The fight has also spilled over to an upcoming race for the state supreme court, as Democrats are mobilizing to unseat Republican Justice David Prosser in an April 5 election. The election now takes on added importance because a Democratic victory would tilt the balance of the court that may ultimately decide the fate of the law that has so divided Wisconsin voters.