Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Conservatives Push To Protect Walker-Era Reforms

Seeking constitutional amendments to enshrine Act 10, right-to-work, school choice laws.

By - Apr 17th, 2023 11:36 am
Governor Scott Walker Signing Right to Work Legislation (Photo from Governor's Office)

Governor Scott Walker Signing Right to Work Legislation (Photo from Governor’s Office)

Republican legislators who got voters to amend the state Constitution five times in the last 12 years are being asked to use that process again to preserve the major policy changes they enacted with former Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

A plea to enshrine Republican-passed laws in the Constitution was one option suggested in the wake of two Democratic victories that moved the public-policy goalposts away from conservatives: the re-election of Gov. Tony Evers in November and the April 4 win of liberal Supreme Court candidate Janet Protasiewicz.

The conservative group Institute for Reforming Government (IRG) urged Republican legislators to bypass Evers and the four-justice liberal majority on the Supreme Court’s next term by putting new constitutional amendments before voters.

“There’s no sugarcoating it: many of the most important reforms enacted or expanded during the era of former Gov. Scott Walker are now at stake,” IRG Chief Legal Counsel Anthony LoCoco said in a statement.

“For example, while still a candidate, Judge – soon Justice – Protasiewicz characterized Act 10 as unconstitutional,” LoCoco added.

“It is reasonable to question how she might rule if other matters relating to critical rights and reforms – school choice, right to work, and more – are brought before the Court by groups arguing that they should be struck down.”

Another leading conservative, Rick Esenberg, founder and president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), also promised that his law firm will do all it can to stop attempts to repeal Republican initiatives.

“The left has already begun bragging of how they will ‘undo’ Act 10, the congressional district maps, and every other hard-fought win that we achieved in the first place. They will start in Wisconsin and go on from here. We cannot let them succeed,” Esenberg said, adding this claim: “WILL is the only organization strategically poised to take them head-on again.”

LoCoco’s logic for new constitutional amendments?: “The Supreme Court of Wisconsin has the last word on issues of state law, and its interpretations are binding on the legislative and executive branches.

“Put simply, codifying critical policy reforms like Act 10 in the Wisconsin Constitution prevents judicial rulings that the reforms violate the Wisconsin Constitution.

“In other words, if the Wisconsin Constitution itself mandates these important reforms, that document will provide no basis for striking them down.”

Two constitutional changes suggested by IRG:

-A ”worker freedom” amendment preserving the Act 10 changes of 2011, which repealed collective bargaining for most public employee unions and required public employees to pay more of pension and health care benefits, and the 2015 “right to work” law which prohibits employers and unions from requiring the payment of monthly dues from non-union members at unionized worksites.

-A ”school choice” amendment to “make clear that nothing in that document prohibits the legislature from establishing school choice programs,” which allow students to attend private schools with a state-issued voucher.

Because constitutional amendments must pass two successive sessions of the Legislature before they can go to voters, none of IRG’s changes could become law before 2025.

The court’s new four-justice liberal majority could rule on those issues, and the legality of the 1849 law prohibiting abortions and Republican-passed Congressional and legislative district lines, before 2025.

Since Republicans won control of the Legislature in 2011, they initiated five changes to the constitution. They prohibited transfers from the state Transportation Fund, allowed Supreme Court justices to choose the chief justice, gave crime victims new legal rights and, on April 4, gave judges new criteria when setting bail in criminal cases.

Senate Democratic Leader Melissa Agard said conservatives are “so desperate to stay in power that they’re willing to weaponize our state constitution for their selfish political agenda.”

“Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race was, in large part, a referendum on Republican governance over the last decade,” Agard added. “Rather than listening to the voters who are rejecting their extremist ideas, Republicans are attempting to enshrine these unpopular policies in the state’s constitution.”

Jeff Mandell, board president of the progressive law firm Law Forward, said IRG wants to continue “the power-grab mindset that has fueled the assault on democracy in Wisconsin over the past 15 years” and would add to the constitution “policy preferences contrary to the fundamental principles of our democratic system.”

IRG “makes this proposal as a last-ditch effort to exert power that the people of Wisconsin have consistently said over recent years they do not want exerted in these ways,” Mandell added.

Steven Walters started covering the Capitol in 1988. Contact him at

3 thoughts on “The State of Politics: Conservatives Push To Protect Walker-Era Reforms”

  1. ZeeManMke says:

    State Senator Melissa Agard and Atty. Jeff Mandell get it. After crying about their WSCourt loss they pondered why? So now they bring up some of the worst, most anti-worker legislation and seek to make it a part of our State Constitution? The people of Wisconsin want decent jobs, health care, and a state government that works for them. They totally rejected Walker and his judges. They do not want this garbage that only a billionaire could love. They are clueless. The people told them two weeks ago they reject policies that put their money directly into the hands of people like Diane Hendriks.

  2. tornado75 says:

    the photo of walker signing a bill that bill, tells the whole story of the republicans. something is very wrong with that picture and it is unfortunate and destructive that republicans don’t want to see it.

  3. gerrybroderick says:

    In Federalist 47 Madison states “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judicial, in the same hands…may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

    So would it be fair to assume that the Federalist Society opposes the intentions of the Wisconsin State Legislature’s pending intentions? Or is principle, in this case, overridden by the attainment of a “greater good?”

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us