A Dane County circuit court judge struck down parts of the controversial law that ended most collective bargaining rights for public employees and sparked the historic recall efforts and protests against Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers Friday.

Judge Juan Colas said in his ruling certain portions of Act 10 are unconstitutional and violated plaintiffs’ rights of free speech, association and equal protection. Madison Teachers Inc. brought the lawsuit.

“These are fundamental rights and the infringement having been shown, the burden shifts to the defendants to establish that the harm done to the constitutional right is outweighed by the evil it seeks to prevent,” Colas wrote in his ruling.

As of Friday, city, county and school workers are again allowed to unionize and bargain with school districts and local officials, just as it was before Act 10 was ratified in early 2011.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said in a statement Friday he plans to appeal the decision.

“We believe that Act 10 is constitutional in all respects and will be appealing this decision,” Van Hollen said in the statement. “We also will be seeking a stay of Friday’s decision pending appeal in order to allow the law to continue in effect as it has for more than a year while the appellate courts address the legal issues.”

It is unclear if the court will grant a stay of the decision or when a final ruling on the appeal will be made. In controversial cases like this, it can take months or even years before the state Supreme Court reaches a final decision.

Republican lawmakers swiftly responded to the decision with negative criticisms of Colas, who was appointed by Democratic former Gov. Jim Doyle. Walker called Colas a “liberal activist judge” in a statement and state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, said in a statement the ruling is “further evidence of the complete abandonment of the rule of law in this state and country.”

But Democrats applauded Colas’ decision, calling it a huge victory for Wisconsin workers and for free speech.

“This decision will help to re-establish the balance between employees and their employers,” state Senate Majority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona, said in a statement. “The decision gives us an opportunity to get back to the Wisconsin values of sitting down and working together to iron out differences, not taking away the constitutional rights of our citizens.”

Wisconsin’s current state Supreme Court has a history of conservative rulings. In a separate lawsuit last year challenging the methods Republican lawmakers used to draft Act 10, the court ruled 4-3 in favor of the GOP legislators.

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