A Wisconsin Judicial Race With National Implications

Unions and other opponents tried almost everything in their efforts to derail Act 10, Gov. Scott Walker’s package of public-sector labor-law reforms in Wisconsin. They fought vainly in the Wisconsin legislature, in the courts, and in public discussion. They staged tumultuous, disruptive Occupy-style demonstrations and sit-ins in Madison.  Most formidable of all, they even changed their Facebook and Twitter avatars to little clenched fists in the shape of the state of Wisconsin. 

All to no avail. On Tuesday they lost what will probably turn out to be their last chance, in the form of a race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. That court is deeply split 4-3 along ideological lines, with a liberal minority led by Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson considered eager to overturn the Walker reforms, and a majority of 4 led by Justice David Prosser seen as disinclined to do so. With Act 10 due to come before the court soon, one of the four-justice majority, Justice Patience Roggensack, was up for re-election and her rival on the ballot, Democratic-backed Marquette law professor Ed Fallone, was widely seen as more likely to search for some way to strike down the law, on which he might be the deciding vote.

Wisconsin voters weren’t having that: by a very comfortable margin (at last count) of 57-43 they re-elected Justice Roggensack. Incumbent judges do tend to win re-election at the polls, of course, and many voters may simply be tired of all the partisan bickering and politicization of the courts. Either way, it looks as if they are willing to give Act 10 a fair chance to work as intended. Public-sector labor law reformers in other states, take note.