The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday upheld one law that significantly limits collective bargaining rights for most public workers in the state and another that requires voters to show photo identification.
The court’s decision on collective bargaining rights provided Gov. Scott Walker, who led efforts to pass the law three years ago, with an important victory in an election year.
The law, which drew tens of thousands of union supporters to Wisconsin’s state capital in protest and brought national attention to Walker, a Republican considered a 2016 presidential possibility, had been mired in litigation since 2011. The decision Thursday appeared to bring an end to those challenges.
The justices upheld the law by a 5-2 vote, rejecting arguments that the legislation cuts collective bargaining rights to a degree that violates the Constitutional rights of workers.
The law, known as Act 10, bars automatic transfers of union dues from workers’ paychecks and increases the amount workers contribute to their health care and pensions. It proved divisive in the state, leading to recall efforts against Walker and state legislators, and it remains an issue in Walker’s re-election campaign for governor this year.
“Act 10 has saved Wisconsin taxpayers more than $3 billion,” Walker said in a statement after the decision. “Today’s ruling is a victory for those hard-working taxpayers.”
In 2011, Walker argued that the state needed to rein in collective bargaining rights to handle a state budget deficit, though union leaders said they believed the governor simply wanted to put an end to the power of labor unions.
Walker’s opponent this fall, Mary Burke, a former Trek bicycle executive and Democrat, has said she favors collective bargaining. Polls have shown the race is relatively close.
“Mary supports the right of workers to collectively bargain, and believes that the concessions on health care and pension were fair, but should have been reached through the collective bargaining process,” a statement from Burke’s office said. “She knows that collective bargaining rights don’t stand in the way of effective, accountable government, and that working together is the best way to address the challenges we face.”
In a pair of other rulings, the justices upheld a Wisconsin law requiring that photo identification be shown at polling places. The decision, however, will have no immediate effect on Wisconsin voters because of a federal court decision in April that the identification rule violates the Constitution. That ruling is now being reviewed by a federal appeals court in Chicago.
Walker signed the requirement for photo identification in 2011, and its advocates say it merely prevents voting fraud. Opponents say it is really aimed at changing voter turnout by discouraging minority groups and other voters who tend to support Democrats from going to the polls.
Around the nation, the issue is being weighed in various courts, leaving voting rules still uncertain in some places with midterm elections only months away.