This should give a boost to Governor Scott Walker's efforts to win his recall election.
While the federal judge struck down a couple of significant parts of Walker's signature collective bargaining law for state employees, some vital portions of the law were upheld.
Seven major public employee unions had challenged the fact that Act 10 dramatically narrowed what could be bargained by general public employee unions, and required those unions to recertify every year by an absolute majority of membership while denying the same unions voluntary payroll deductions for dues.
The court sided with state officials in upholding limitations on what can be bargained, but found the two other provisions violated the union members' equal protection and First Amendment rights, considering that the same rules did not apply to unions for public safety workers such as police and firefighters.
"So long as the State of Wisconsin continues to afford ordinary certification and dues deductions to mandatory public safety unions with sweeping bargaining rights, there is no rational basis to deny those rights to voluntary general unions with severely restricted bargaining rights," wrote U.S. District Judge William M. Conley.
Conley, formerly a partner at Foley & Lardner in Madison, was appointed to the federal bench by President Barack Obama in 2009 and confirmed by the Senate in 2010.
Cullen Werwie, a spokesman for Walker, said the state would appeal the decision.
"Today, Judge Conley affirmed the constitutionality of nearly everything in Act 10," he said in a statement. "We are confident that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals will continue to uphold the constitutionality of the law."
Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, called the ruling "a good first step." She said it showed the purpose of the law was "punishing political enemies."
Um, no Mary, the ruling says no such thing. And you're whistling past the graveyard if you think this is anything but a reprieve. If an Obama-appointed judge upholds most of the law, you can bet that the full appeals panel will probably uphold the rest.
The Democrats are hurting to find a candidate who can beat Walker in the recall election. Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, has now thrown his hat in the ring. Twice defeated in races for governor previously, Barrett will have only lukewarm union support given his track record. He ran against Walker in 2010 and narrowly lost.
For Wisconsin residents, it may be that they know Barrett too well and Walker may be in better shape than it was thought possible just a couple of months ago.