Wisconsin Republicans aren't pulling on their boots and kicking ass. They're wearing clown shoes.
The blogosphere is aflame with the news that Wisconsin's "budget repair" law eliminating collective bargaining rights for public employees has been published, in apparent disregard of a court order.
In a stunning twist, Gov. Scott Walker's legislation limiting collective bargaining for public workers was published Friday despite a judge's hold on the measure, prompting a dispute over whether it takes effect Saturday.
The measure was published to the Legislature's website with a footnote that acknowledges the restraining order by a Dane County judge. But the posting says state law "requires the Legislative Reference Bureau to publish every act within 10 working days after its date of enactment."
But how stunning is this twist, exactly? Well, it is pretty stunning, but not for the reasons stated. In all likelihood, the apparent disregard for the court order will turn out to be less bold and unbending than child-like and laughable. Wisconsin Republicans aren't pulling on their boots and kicking ass. They're wearing clown shoes.
Check it out:
The restraining order was issued against Democratic Secretary of State Doug La Follette. But the bill was published by the reference bureau, which was not named in the restraining order.
Laws normally take effect a day after they are published, and a top GOP lawmaker said that meant it will become law Saturday. But nonpartisan legislative officials from two agencies, including the one who published the bill, disagreed.
"I think this is a ministerial act that forwards it to the secretary of state," said Stephen Miller, director of the Legislative Reference Bureau. "I don't think this act makes it become effective. My understanding is that the secretary of state has to publish it in the (official state) newspaper for it to become effective."
What this appears to say is that Wisconsin law requires a very specific kind of publication, in a very specific place, by a very specific person. That is, publication by the Secretary of State in the official state newspaper. "Publication" on the web site of the Legislative Reference Bureau simply doesn't count. As summed up on the Wisconsin blog Illusory Tenant, the move by the state's Republicans is constructively no different than visiting Kinko's. I think that's exactly right.
What's happening here is something I'd liken to when someone says Sarah Palin is a moron, or Andrew Breitbart is a racist and shouldn't be on TV, and they reply that that's a violation of their "right to free speech."
That is, they've read somewhere that they supposedly have such a right, and never bothered to learn that the Constitution guarantees individual rights as against the state, not every other individual or entity in the world. But the part that fits on a bumper sticker says "free speech," so that's that, as far as they're concerned.
Someone in Wisconsin read that the law had to be "published," so as far as they're concerned, any publication will do. Never mind what the law actually requires. Too hard and boring to figure out!
According to reports, the intent of the judge's order is pretty clear:
"I do, therefore, restrain and enjoin the further implementation of 2011 Wisconsin Act 10," Sumi said, according to a transcript. "The next step in implementation of that law would be the publication of that law by the secretary of state. He is restrained and enjoined from such publication until further order of this court."
The judge has enjoined "further implementation" of the act, including but not limited to its publication by the secretary of state. Interpreting that should be fairly straightforward. The judge meant for the law to remain in limbo, and preventing publication was just one method of enforcing that order. But as we all know, even a law that's been properly passed, signed and published can still be invalid if the courts say so. The key issue here is that if the bill's passage was procedurally defective because of open meeting requirements as this case contends, then even correct publication isn't going to remedy the defect. It can only succeed in not adding another one. Unfortunately for Wisconsin's clowns, they couldn't even resist the temptation to add another mistake to their mess.
So let me suggest that the proper reaction to this isn't, "Oh my God! Outrage! They're ignoring the law!" We should instead be laughing in their faces. Like the knee-jerk insistence that the First Amendment is violated every time someone says Breitbart is a jerk, this move evidences a child's understanding of the law. It's not that Republicans are screwing everybody by boldly pushing forward in disregard of the law. They're not. They're wearing clown shoes.