The ACLU of Wisconsin on July 13 issued its summer term report card on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — and he's failing.
The Republican governor, who on July 13 was formally announcing his bid for president, is at odds with the defenders civil liberties on many issues, including:
Marriage equality and equal treatment under the law. Not long after he was sworn in, Walker stopped defense of the state domestic partner registry that provided a few rights and benefits of marriage for same-sex couples.
He also aggressively fought the ACLU’s case which won marriage equality in the state.
More recently, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, Walker said, “I believe this Supreme Court decision is a grave mistake… In 2006 I, like millions of Americans, voted to amend our state constitution to protect the institution of marriage from exactly this type of judicial activism. …As a result of this decision, the only alternative left for the American people is to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reaffirm the ability of the states to continue to define marriage.”
Women’s reproductive freedom. As governor, Walker has signed a number of abortion restrictions, including a law (opposed by major medical associations) that unnecessarily required hospital admitting privileges for abortion providers and required women seeking abortion to have an ultrasound and their doctors to narrate that ultrasound, even if the woman doesn’t want to view the ultrasound or listen to the narration.
Part of this law has been challenged by the ACLU of Wisconsin and Planned Parenthood and is currently blocked by the federal courts.
Also, Walker just signed a bill banning all abortions after 20 weeks of fertilization, even in cases where the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest — and in fact reportedly requested that the ban not contain rape and incest exceptions.
The Walker administration also stopped enforcing a Wisconsin state law that had required health insurers to cover birth control.
Walker also supported the repeal of a Wisconsin law requiring age-appropriate, medically-accurate sexual education curricula in public schools.
Education: Walker, said the ACLU, has presided over both the largest budget reduction for public schools in state history and the dramatic statewide expansion of the state’s taxpayer-funded, largely unaccountable, private school voucher program.
The vast majority of the voucher schools are pervasively sectarian and, under Walker’s administration, the number of these religious voucher schools increased by 172 percent.
Every one of the 68 voucher schools on the statewide list is a religious school.
The ACLU of Wisconsin and Disability Rights Wisconsin have filed a complaint, currently being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice, alleging that voucher schools routinely fail to serve students with disabilities.
Moreover, despite receiving tax dollars, these hypersegregated schools continue to be free from meaningful accountability, and the limited comparisons conducted have shown that they frequently under-perform public schools.
Free speech. Walker’s administration instituted a policy for the state Capitol forcing groups as small as four to obtain a permit from the government before they engaged in expression “for the purpose of actively promoting any cause.”
The rules also prohibited people from gathering in state buildings including the Capitol for any performance, ceremony, presentation, meeting or rally without a permit.
Demonstrators remained unintimidated, however, and continued to protest, and the ACLU of Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit that blocked the permit requirement for small groups and ultimately led to a settlement.
The governor also proposed elimination of tenure protection for academic freedom and public employee organizing.
Voting rights. Wisconsin's voter photo ID law and numerous other election law changes adopted by Walker’s administration make it substantially harder for persons of color, persons with disabilities, seniors and other lower-income people to vote, said the ACLU.
In a voter ID trial brought by the ACLU, Walker’s own legal team estimated that at least 150,000 voters lacked the kind of ID they needed to vote and a federal judge found that there was simply no evidence of voter fraud to justify the restrictions imposed on those voters.
While many states are moving towards simplifying voter registration, Walker has signed multiple pieces of legislation to make it harder and more complicated for Wisconsin voters to register.
He has also substantially cut back early voting and eliminated it on weekends.
And while states like Arizona have made efforts toward non-partisan redistricting, the Wisconsin redistricting plan Walker signed is considered the most secretive, partisan, redistricting plan in Wisconsin’s history.
Immigration. In 2010, Walker said he supported an anti-immigrant law like Arizona's SB 1070, which would have dramatically expanded local law enforcement authority to arrest and seek to deport immigrants — a law later found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 2011, Walker proposed and signed a law that repealed a Wisconsin state law that had provided in-state tuition at state universities for undocumented immigrant youth who graduated from Wisconsin high schools.
In 2011 he also proposed and signed a budget that took away food stamps from many legal immigrant residents of Wisconsin. He has expressed opposition even to legal immigration, and he is currently a plaintiff in a lawsuit that has blocked President Barack Obama’s executive action which would provide some protections for millions of hardworking, undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
Open records. Walker’s office has admitted that it worked in coordination with legislative leaders to create an 11th-hour motion that would dramatically inhibit the public’s ability to request information about how its government works.
According to the Chicago Tribune, “the changes would have blocked from release nearly all communications and records that help the public understand how lawmakers do their jobs.”
Only tremendous backlash from the public and media watchdogs prevented this from remaining in the state budget.
The ACLU, in its report card on Walker, said, "Overall, Gov. Walker’s track record indicates a disregard for essential civil liberties and civil rights. Gov. Walker has again and again placed the power of the government over the rights of individuals and families and we strongly encourage citizens to weigh his record on these critical issues.