In the first step of what is sure to be a protracted legal battle, Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi struck down Scott Walker’s bill to take away collective bargaining rights from Wisconsin public employees.
Judge Sumi ruled that she would freeze the legislation because the GOP violated the Open Meetings Law when passed it on March 9. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “In the decision, Sumi appeared to be bracing for an outcry from Republicans and supporters of the law, noting that judges are supposed to apply the law even if their decisions will be “controversial or unpopular.” Sumi writes that Ozanne showed by “clear and convincing evidence” that the open meetings law had been violated. “This decision explains why it is necessary to void the legislative actions flowing from those violations,” wrote Sumi, who was appointed to the bench by former GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson.”
Wisconsin Republicans were struck down in a blaze of judicial glory as Judge Sumi of Dane County Court found that the Wisconsin Republicans violated the Open Meetings Laws on three separate counts and that the resulting governmental actions (the bill to kill collective bargaining) is therefore void. The Wisconsin Act 10 is void, and has “no force”. Sumi voided the collective bargaining bill with one decisive bang of the gavel.
The Republicans were warned that they were violating Open Meetings Laws during their hastily called session, but they proceeded against those warnings to their own detriment. They were offered the opportunity to pass it the right way, but refused to do so, claiming that to redo it would appear that they were guilty. The judge told them that a redo would not implicate them in any guilt, and at any rate, the Republicans have all claimed legislative immunity. In truth, politically, it didn’t seem that they could muster the votes to re-pass the bill the proper way with the massive protests and recalls hounding them at every corner.
The judge wasn’t ruling on whether the union busting bill was legal or constitutional, but rather whether it was passed legally or not. The question was did Wisconsin legislators violate Open Meetings Law on March 9, 2011 and if so, was the action resulting from that violation is null. Yes, and yes.
Sumi found that the Open Meetings laws presume that all governmental meetings must be open to the public and preceded by notice, there is no general exemption from the Open Meetings Laws for legislative proceedings, and the legislature is subject to the same Open Meetings Law enforcement as other governmental bodies.
This is what happens when legislators violate the laws of transparency and attempt to prohibit citizen involvement in the democratic process. The Open Meetings Laws are a sacred commodity in the accountability department and they are not very tough to follow if you’re not doing things in back rooms and locking the public out from the process. Conservatives have been attempting to minimize the importance of Open Meeting Laws in order to claim that the state didn’t have a real claim. We have to ask anyone who denies the necessity to follow the law why they are arguing against the process of democracy and the very foundation of our government.
The purpose of having county judges rule on issues like this is central to the notion of the 3 branches of government. The judicial branch is tasked with being a check and balance to abuse and violation of the law by our lawmakers. The judicial branch doesn’t make laws, they rule on whether laws are passed properly.
The state proved that the March 9, 2011 meeting of the Joint Committee of Conference was conducted in violation of the Open Meetings Laws. Your union killing bill is dead, boys.
How do you like us now, Wisconsin Republicans?