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Wisconsin Judge Checks and Balances a Lawless King, er, Governor | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

Breaking news and analysis of politics, the economy and activism.

Wisconsin Judge Checks and Balances a Lawless King, er, Governor

A week after Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) that was meant to delay the publication and implementation of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union, pro-corporate power grab, Walker’s legislative allies pressured state bureaucrats to publish the measure and then claimed they were free to implement it.

But the law does not work that way. Governors are not kings. They do not get to violate the law at will. And they do not get to dismiss orders from judges.

Judge Sumi made that “crystal clear” Tuesday, after a day of testimony that described the pressure placed on the state’s Legislative Reference Bureau by Walker’s consigliere, state Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald, to publish the governor’s anti-labor plan—even though authorization from Secretary of State Doug La Follette was required, and La Follette was prevented from giving that authorization because of the TRO.

Referring to the TRO, Sumi said Tuesday afternoon: “Apparently that language was either misunderstood or ignored, but what I said was ‘the further implementation of 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 is enjoined. That’s what I now want to make crystal clear.”

With that, Sumi barred state officials from implementing Walker’s law and added, “Now that I’ve made my earlier order as clear as it possibly can be, I must state that those who act in open and willful defiance of the court order place not only themselves at peril of sanctions, they also jeopardize the financial and the governmental stability of the state of Wisconsin.”

Earlier in the day, state Court of Appeals judges rejected a request from Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s office to remove barriers to implementation of the law.

So Sumi does not stand alone. She’s being backed up by other jurists.

And this is as it should be. Like the federal government, state governments have three branches.

Scott Walker may have what senior legislators refer to as “dictatorial” control of the executive and legislative branches of state government in Wisconsin. But he does not own the judiciary. That, of course, is precisely as the founders of the American experiment, and of the Wisconsin experiment, intended it when they established systems of checks and balances to prevent elected executives from assuming the abusive authority of the monarchs against which a revolution was waged and won.

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