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Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds State's Controversial Labor Law

A farmer drives his tractor past the Wisconsin State Capitol during a rally in March of 2011.
Scott Olson
Getty Images
A farmer drives his tractor past the Wisconsin State Capitol during a rally in March of 2011.

Handing Gov. Scott Walker an important election-year victory, the Wisconsin Supreme court on Thursday upheld a controversial labor law championed by the Republican governor.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the Supreme Court also upheld the state's voter ID law and one providing some benefits to gay couples. The paper adds:

"The state court's decisions on the voter ID and domestic partner registry could still be overtaken by decisions in separate but related cases in federal court. But after more than three years of litigation, the court's seven justices on Thursday put to rest the last of the major legal disputes over Act 10, the 2011 law repealing most union bargaining for most public employees.

"The decision was 5-2, with Justice Michael Gableman writing the lead opinion, which found that collective bargaining is not a fundamental right under the constitution but rather a benefit that lawmakers can extend or restrict as they see fit."

If you remember, the debate and subsequent passage of Act 10 unleashed months of protests in Madison. At one point, the state Capitol was shutdown because of protesters.

Perhaps the most controversial of all incidents allegedly happened in the chambers of the state Supreme Court, when one justice accused one of her colleagues of putting her in a "chokehold" during a dispute about the labor law.

The Wisconsin State Journal quotes from today's decision:

"'We reject the plaintiffs' argument that several provisions of Act 10, which delineate the rights, obligations and procedures of collective bargaining, somehow infringe upon general employees' constitutional right to freedom of association,' Justice Michael Gableman wrote for the majority in a 90-page decision.

"'No matter the limitations or "burdens" a legislative enactment places on the collective bargaining process, collective bargaining remains a creation of legislative grace and not constitutional obligation. The First Amendment cannot be used as a vehicle to expand the parameters of a benefit that it does not itself protect.'"

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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