December 21, 2010

Newspaper editors overstep authority

"Appeals court says Walker overstepped authority with shorter work weeks," according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "The State Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that County Executive and Governor-elect Scott Walker's imposition of a 35-hour work week in 2009 as an emergency budget measure overstepped his authority."

Maybe I'm dim, but I can't find the court saying either of those things. Indeed, the key references to "authority" throughout are to the authority of the arbitrator in a labor dispute whose award disfavoring Scott Walker's position was vacated by a circuit court.

The paper might wade through several layers of inference to produce its headline and lead, but it does a disservice by directly attributing them to the court. In fact the opinion, written by Judge Ralph Adam Fine, whose cerebral calisthenics we have enjoyed previously, is careful — and gracious, it seems to me — to not even directly question the authority of the lower court whose decision the appeals court had been tasked to review (and which the appeals court this morning reversed, thus reinstating the arbitrator's determination).

Far from accusing anyone of overstepping their authority, the opinion is a reminder that arbitration is itself part of a collective bargaining agreement to which the parties have freely submitted, and that the courts play a severely circumscribed role limited to ensuring only that the arbitrator's decision does not violate the terms of the contract.

Or else is not patently and irretrievably insane.

In other words, whether Walker overstepped his authority is not even a question the court considers, let alone the court's "ruling" or even "saying" that he did or that he did not. Therefore no justification exists for those determinations to be attributed to this court.

It's an esoteric sensationalism, but sensationalism nevertheless.

Who knows, perhaps this is one step in a process of atonement for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's bizarre endorsement of Scott Walker's gubernatorial aspirations in spite of the paper's opposing virtually every policy position enunciated during Walker's campaign.

eta: More from extensive political blogger Chris Liebenthal.

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