A year after Wisconsin exploded in protest over Republican legislation to gut collective bargaining for public employees, a Wisconsin judge has nullified the law, ruling on Friday that it violates workers’ equal rights under the Constitution.
Those dramatic union reforms and the political theater it sparked last year turned Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker into a Republican hero and helped balance the state’s budget.
With its focus on a signature Republican law, Friday’s ruling also highlights a series of state and federal rulings over the last year that have turned back major tenets of a Republican agenda fueled by the massive electoral victories the party brought home in November 2010, when it took over the House of Representatives and won nine governorships. Subsequently, a large number of state voter ID laws, immigration laws, and redistricting laws passed by Republicans since 2010 have faltered, or failed, in the courts.
Rrom Florida to Texas, the court rejections of conservative laws, shows that the Republican revolution of 2010 has underscored political “overreach” by Republican majorities that courts have little choice but to dismantle, Rice University political scientist Mark Jones told the San Antonio Express-News this week.
Prof. Jones goes on to say that that “hubris or ignorance” by Republican majorities has already had more serious backlash for the party’s legislative agenda.
In Texas, for example, a ruling by a panel of federal judges this month that a redistricting map had “discriminatory intent” against the booming Hispanic population’s voting power reconfirmed for many that Texas is not ready to be released from the strictures of the Voting Rights Act.
Republicans acknowledge that they are pushing the envelope, but disagree that what they see as a mandate from voters constitutes overreach. “We are testing the waters,” State Representative Marva Beck, a freshman legislator in Texas, told the New York Times last year.
Across the country, judges have rejected prison-privatization programs, welfare drug testing, new abortion rules, and a so-called “docs vs. Glocks” law that barred doctors from asking patients about firearm ownership.
In Florida, Senate President Mike Haridopolos told the News Service of Florida that liberals are trying to thwart the will of the electorate by using the courts.
“What have liberals historically done?” he asked. “When they can’t win elections, they go to the courts.”
Concerns about a politicized judiciary have gained traction in some quarters. Republicans cried foul, for example, over what they said was a clearly political opinion attached by Federal Judge Sam Sparks to his ruling against a new law in Texas requiring doctors to show sonogram results to women seeking an abortion.
“It is ironic that many of the same people who zealously defend the state’s righteous duty to become intimately involved in a woman’s decision to get an abortion are also positively scandalized at the government’s gross overreaching in the area of health care,” Judge Sparks wrote.
It’s not clear what effect Friday’s ruling will have on the Wisconsin law. The Dane County ruling by Judge Juan Colas came in response to one of several lawsuits filed against the law. But last year, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the merits of the law as it looked at an appeal from a different lawsuit.