Today, the Wisconsin Supreme Court hears oral arguments on Act 10 -- the law that ended most collective bargaining rights for most public employees.
Last month, Dane County circuit court Judge Juan Colas held officials in Governor Scott Walker's administration in contempt of court for ignoring his earlier ruling that parts of Act 10 -- including forcing unions to hold annual recertification elections -- was unconstitutional.
The state went ahead and prepared for recertification elections in spite of the court's decision that they were unconstitutional. And "the commissioners knew full well," that they were flouting the court, Colas said, and ordered that the preparations for the unconstitutional elections stop.
Unions got a reprieve from recertification elections in November.
But now the Wisconsin Supreme Court -- which is dominated by the same rightwingers and big-money interests that brought us Act 10 -- takes up the case.
Before oral arguments began today the Court issued a ruling on Friday night that held that the state, but not the unions, could argue about the contempt issue.
In their dissent on that ruling, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Patrick Crooks wrote: "the court's order today undermines this court's role as a neutral, fair, impartial and non-partisan arbiter by excluding (without adequate explanation) the victorious-at-the-circuit-court unions from arguing at the supreme court about the contempt motion that the unions filed and won at the circuit court."
If the Madison Teacher, Inc., can win the larger case on the merits, the order will not matter.
But the initial ruling is not a good sign. With its 4-3 conservative tilt, the Wisconsin Supreme Court is not a friendly forum for the unions.
Still, there is this: at the heart of this case is a question about whether courts have any real authority. The justices on the Supreme Court might take that seriously, regardless of their political bias.
When the state was caught out ignoring the circuit court ruling that its actions were unconstitutional, it argued that it had read the finding of "unconstitutional" as applying only to the specific plaintiffs in the case.
That reasoning is nothing but a thumb in the eye to judicial authority. No court should take kindly to that.