A Wisconsin judge has declared as unconstitutional a law championed by Gov. Scott Walker that effectively killed collective bargaining for many public employees in that state. Walker criticized the ruling from "a liberal activist judge" - as differentiated, say, from a conservative activist judge - and vowed to appeal.

A Wisconsin judge has declared as unconstitutional a law championed by Gov. Scott Walker that effectively killed collective bargaining for many public employees in that state. Walker criticized the ruling from "a liberal activist judge" - as differentiated, say, from a conservative activist judge - and vowed to appeal.


In a 27-page ruling, Dane County, Wis., Judge Juan Colas said that the law violated the U.S. Constitution on the basis that, by singling out some union members - and not non-union workers or police and firefighters, for example - it violated the First Amendment protections against free speech and association, as well as the equal protection clause provided in the 14th Amendment. The judge also found that the law ran counter to the "home rule" provision in the state constitution that gives local governments the jurisdiction to make such calls.


The 2011 law prevented collective bargaining for wage increases greater than the inflation rate and made health care benefits, pensions, workplace safety and other benefits completely off limits for teachers and many city and county workers in Wisconsin. The story soon became a national one, as the issue at the heart of it goes well beyond one state. The legislation so infuriated the unions and Democrats that they were successful in getting a recall effort on the ballot earlier this year, only to see the Republican Walker prevail again.


The governor made reference to that in his criticism of the decision, noting that "the people of Wisconsin clearly spoke on June 5." Of course, to the degree that the judge is correct in his interpretation and this is a civil rights issue, well, civil rights aren't subject to popularity contests. If this is a balance of powers issue, as Walker also suggests, well, many a legislator might prefer there be no judiciary to second-guess him, but that wouldn't do much to enhance the system of checks and balances long cherished in this country, either. No doubt this will end up in Wisconsin's Supreme Court, and perhaps beyond that.


For those who buy their blinders at Partisan Apologists R Us, of course, Walker is a patron saint who can do no wrong. From this vantage the governor was correct in his desire to balance the budget, but he overreached. In fact he'd already won most of the financial concessions he'd sought from the unions. Ultimately it wasn't enough for him just to tame those who disagreed with him, he wished to make them extinct. Negotiating is hard. Dictating is easy. It's the kind of stance that gives many an independent pause about Walker-type Republicans, those moderates who might otherwise sympathize with the fiscal responsibility measures that sometimes seem beyond the grasp of Democrats.


Indeed, the flip side here is that this legislation did in fact help Walker and other elected leaders control costs and stabilize budgets. As such this ruling may have immediate implications for local governments and taxpayers in Wisconsin, particularly if the law's repeal is made retroactive. Wisconsin's attorney general is attempting to prevent that.


As one has written many times in this space, there just is no balance in American life anymore. Getting most of what you want isn't good enough. Everybody gets greedy, employers and those representing employees alike. It is one of the defining characteristic of an age that will not go down in history as golden, under almost any definition.


Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.