Governor Walker Civil Liberties Report Card

Monday, July 13, 2015

As Governor Walker announces his candidacy for president, the ACLU of Wisconsin points to instances that reveal the candidate’s positions on individual freedoms and civil rights.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – July 13, 2015Photo by Michael Vadon, courtesy Creative Commons

MADISON, WI – Today, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will formally announce his candidacy for president of the United States.  The ACLU of Wisconsin has compiled a summary of the Governor’s actions that reflect his positions on important civil liberties and civil rights issues that have emerged during his tenure in Wisconsin’s highest executive office.  Voters around the country should study Governor Walker’s record on civil rights and civil liberties during his time as the Wisconsin Governor as they compare him to others seeking the highest executive office in the nation.

The following actions by Governor Walker exemplify his stance on civil liberties and civil rights:

1. Opposing marriage equality and equal treatment under the law: Not long after he was sworn in, Governor Walker stopped defending Wisconsin’s domestic partner registry, which provided a few – but far from all – of the rights and benefits of marriage for people who are LGBT*. Although the Wisconsin Supreme Court later upheld the registry, Governor Walker’s staunch opposition to marriage equality continues. He aggressively fought the ACLU’s case which won marriage equality in Wisconsin.  On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court found in favor of marriage equality nationwide, and Governor Walker asserted that: “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.”

2. Crusading against 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.  Governor 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.  Governor Walker also supported the repeal of a Wisconsin law requiring age-appropriate, medically-accurate sexual education curricula in public schools.

3. Expanding state funding of private religious schools: Governor Walker has presided over both the largest budget reduction for public schools in Wisconsin history, and the dramatic statewide expansion of the state’s taxpayer-funded, largely unaccountable, private school voucher program. The vast majority of these voucher schools are pervasively sectarian, and under Walker’s administration, the number of these religious voucher schools increased by 172%. 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.  

4. Constricting free speech:  Governor 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.

5. Enacting and defending racially discriminatory and burdensome election laws: Wisconsin's voter photo ID law and numerous other election law changes adopted by Governor Walker’s administration make it substantially harder for persons of color, persons with disabilities, seniors, and other lower-income people to vote.  In a voter ID trial brought by the ACLU, Governor 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, Governor 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 Governor Walker signed is the most secretive, partisan, redistricting plan in Wisconsin’s history.

6. Opposing immigrants’ rights: In 2010, Scott 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, Governor 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 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 Obama’s executive action which would provide some protections for millions of hardworking, undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

7.  Attempting to gut Wisconsin’s Open Records law: Governor Walker’s office has admitted that it worked in coordination with legislative leaders to create an eleventh-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.

Overall, Governor Walker’s track record indicates a disregard for essential civil liberties and civil rights.  Governor 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.

The ACLU of Wisconsin is a non-profit, non-partisan, private 501(c)4 organization whose 7,000 members support its efforts to defend the civil rights and liberties of all Wisconsin residents. For more on the ACLU of Wisconsin, visit our website, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter at @ACLUofWisconsin and @ACLUMadison. .