Dane County Judge Strikes Down Elements of Wisconsin Act 10

MADISON — A Dane County judge ruled Wednesday that provisions of Wisconsin’s Act 10 law are unconstitutional, denying a motion to dismiss a case challenging the Gov. Scott Walker-era law that severely limited union influence, sparked mass protests and changed Wisconsin’s political climate for years to come.

Several unions representing public workers filed the lawsuit in November 2023, citing a “serious situation” in the workplace involving problems such as low wages, staffing shortages and poor working conditions. Dane County Judge Jacob Frost considered a motion from the state Legislature to dismiss the case in May, promising to issue a ruling “in the near future.”

Frost, who was appointed to the Dane County circuit court by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in 2020, appears to have signed a petition to recall the former Republican governor over the law. His signature appears on the petition next to an address where he lived in 2011 before Frost was a judge, according to property records.

The immediate consequences of Frost’s order are unclear.

The lawsuit alleges that the 2011 law violates the equal protection guarantees in the Wisconsin Constitution by dividing government employees into two classes: “general” and “public safety” employees. Public safety employees are exempt from the collective bargaining restrictions imposed on “general” government employees.

“Rational basis review provides a simple starting point. Can you explain the differential treatment of different groups in a statute in a way that makes sense and supports public policy? If not, the differential treatment is irrational and violates the right to equal protection of the laws. Because no one has provided this Court with an explanation that reasonably demonstrates why municipal police and fire departments and state troopers are considered public safety employees, but Capitol Police, UW Police and rangers, who have the same authority and do the same work, are not,” Frost wrote in his ruling.

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