Judge Restores Access To Wisconsin Capitol — But No Staying Overnight

March 4, 2011 5:45 a.m.
EDITORS' NOTE: TPM is making our COVID-19 coverage free to all readers during this national health crisis. If you’d like to support TPM's reporters, editors and staff, the best way to do so is to become a member.

The standoff over public access to the Wisconsin state Capitol appears to have come to a resolution, after a judge ruled Thursday night that the building could not be locked down during the day as the government had attempted to do — but that protesters also have to clear out in the off-hours.

As the Wisconsin State Journal reports, Judge John Albert ruled Thursday night that the government “closed the Capitol impermissibly” when it restricted access to the building. He ordered that the limits be lifted by no later than 8 a.m. Monday. The judge, however, did order the removal of protesters when the building is closed: “If the building is closed, there’s no one to listen to a demonstration.”

In addition, Albert dismissed the state’s contention that protesters were disrupting the Capitol and necessitating the restrictions. “Demonstrator is not a word that should be used in a vein of disrespect,” said Albert, also adding: “These people were exercising an important right.”

It appears that the judge has attempted to restore the status quo that existed up until two weeks ago — before Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal and its anti-public employee union proposals triggered massive protests and a political crisis in the state.As WisPolitics reports, former state Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager (D), who represented unions in a lawsuit to lift the restrictions, told a cheering crowd: “We won the battle.”

In addition, the Department of Administration released new rules Friday morning, with only some restrictions: Sleeping bags and other items are prohibited, protesters must remain in the ground floor rotunda area, and signs can no longer be taped to the walls.

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, the final clear-out of the building went smoothly last night:

The more than two-week occupation ended peacefully, as Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs gently prodded and patiently waited for around 50 of the last holdout protesters to file out of the rotunda.

“We have to get back to normalcy,” Tubbs said. “I’m asking you tonight to please leave.”

At 9:58 p.m., about an hour after the main group left, the last five protesters exited the building. No arrests were reported.

Though, as some dramatic video suggests, things didn’t go perfectly: Democratic state Rep. Nick Milroy was tackled by police as he was apparently trying to enter the building last night.

Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Senior Editor:
Special Projects Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Publishing Associate:
Front-End Developer:
Senior Designer: