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Walters: Walker, GOP changes keep lawyers employed

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August 12, 2013

It was a routine legal notice: At 1:30 p.m. Oct. 23, the Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the unions’ fight to have Act 10—the 2011 law that all but eliminated collective bargaining for most public employees—tossed out.

The notice had to be sent to 27 lawyers across the nation.

And that is only one of three pending lawsuits against Act 10, so an army of lawyers—many of them being paid with tax dollars—is trying to defend or repeal that controversial law.

Collective bargaining. New restrictions on who can perform abortions. Rules on carrying concealed weapons. Redistricting. Requiring voters to show photo IDs.

All those major bills—and others—passed by Republican legislators and signed into law by Republican Scott Walker since he became governor in January 2011 have become the subject of long, complex and expensive lawsuits dragging on and on.

Remember the “Saturday Night Live” character who played a retired Hispanic baseball player who constantly observed that, “Baseball … been berry berry good to me”?

The first two-plus years of Walker’s administration have been “berry berry good” for lawyers.

The state Justice Department offered this lawsuit scorecard but said it may not be complete:

-- Act 10: A 2011 challenge that asked if passage of the law violated the Wisconsin Open Meetings law was dismissed on a 4-3 ruling of the state Supreme Court. In January of this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals threw out an Act 10 challenge filed by the state’s largest teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council.

But, on Oct. 23, the seven Supreme Court justices will hear the Act 10 challenge filed by Madison Teachers Inc. A second state Act 10 challenge, filed by the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association, has an October date in a Dane County courtroom.

-- Photo ID: Four lawsuits—two in state courts and two in federal courts—challenged the law that would require voters to show photo IDs. One of them led to an injunction blocking the law.

In one state case, the Court of Appeals upheld the law but the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin has said it will appeal to the state Supreme Court. In the second state case, a Dane County judge threw out the law, but the Justice Department is appealing.

The two federal cases are pending.

-- Redistricting: Federal judges were asked to toss out new Assembly and Senate district boundaries drawn by Republican lawmakers, but those judges dismissed the case after tinkering with two Milwaukee districts.

Two separate challenges to the new district lines are pending before the state Supreme Court, but the state Justice Department wants them dismissed.

-- Abortion: A federal judge has blocked, pending a two-day Nov. 25 trial, a new law requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of where they perform the procedure. The state Justice Department has appealed that decision.

The same law also required women to get ultrasounds before having abortions—a change that has gone into effect.

A Planned Parenthood lawsuit filed against another new law, which requires physicians to determine whether the woman is being threatened or coerced into having that procedure, is pending before a Dane County judge.

-- Conceal carry: Two challenges to rules implementing Wisconsin’s new concealed-carry law were filed by Wisconsin Carry Inc., including one pending before a Waukesha County judge.

-- Rulemaking: A 2011 change by Walker and GOP lawmakers required states that administrative rules be approved by the governor’s office. A lawsuit alleging that this illegally limited the powers of constitutional officers such as Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers is pending before the state Court of Appeals.

Republican legislators are also picking one more fight almost certain to end up in court.

The Senate will consider an Assembly-passed bill stating that if a circuit court judge blocks a new state law, a state Justice Department appeal of that ruling automatically lifts the order blocking the new law. Constitutional scholars have warned that this would illegally limit the judicial branch of government, a separate and equal partner in state government.

It all rewrites one word from that famous line in Shakespeare’s play “Henry VI—Part 2”: “The first thing we do, let’s pay all the lawyers.”

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. This column reflects his personal perspective. Email stevenscwalters@gmail.com.



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