Scott Walker has a plot to shield Foxconn from scrutiny

Wisconsin Gov. Walker's new law affords special privileges to Foxconn while halting legal challenges against them

Published September 21, 2017 5:24PM (EDT)

Scott Walker   (AP//J. Scott Applewhite)
Scott Walker (AP//J. Scott Applewhite)

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is desperate to gift billions of dollars in subsidies to Foxconn, one of the world's largest electronics manufacturers, in a bid to get them to build a factory in his state. Yet in his fervor to subsidize Foxconn, renowned for the harsh conditions under which their blue-collar employees work, Walker and other GOP lawmakers in his state may have broken the law.

That's according to a memo released by the Wisconsin Legislative Council, who found that "several provisions of the legislation for Foxconn Technology Group of Taiwan and its plant may be unconstitutional," as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Walker signed a deal on Monday that approved up to $3 billion in subsidies for the flat-screen Taiwan-based manufacturing company that plans to build a factory in Racine County, Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Legislative Council's memo referred to how Walker and fellow Republican lawmakers had drastically altered how courts would handle potential litigation over the soon-to-be-built Foxconn factory, in a bid to fast-track construction of it.

In particular, one recent law that Governor Walker signed seemed designed to shield the corporation, which had revenues of $134.7 billion in 2016, from any legal or environmental challenges in the state.

The Sentinel elaborated:

The law signed by Walker on Monday changes how environmental challenges and other potential legal cases over the factory would be handled, including automatically suspending any lower court orders until a higher court has weighed in.

The eight-page analysis highlights this provision among the areas of concern, saying the decision on whether to suspend rulings could be seen as a core power of the court system.

The memo was requested by Wisconsin's Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, who said that a foreign company should not receive special privileges, as it only further diminishes the public's trust in the courts.

"Rather than putting Wisconsin businesses and families at a legal disadvantage, Democrats want to make sure everyone is treated fairly and equally under the law," Shilling told the Sentinel.

However, spokesmen for both Walker and GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel said they did not think the law was unconstitutional and were not concerned, as the Sentinel reported.

The law could cost state taxpayers "up to $2.85 billion in cash to Foxconn over the next 15 years in exchange for the company building an up to $10 billion plant and hiring up to 13,000 workers," according to the Sentinel. The Foxconn project would not be required to undergo an environmental impact statement and would not have to follow rules that are in place to protect wetlands and waterways.

It's likely that environmental activist groups will sue over these privileges. Yet they stand to fight an uphill battle, due to the special rules added by Walker and GOP lawmakers specifically suspending lawsuits against Foxconn. All appeals would have to be expedited, "creating a path that would likely get any case more quickly to the state Supreme Court, where conservatives have a solid majority," the Sentinel reported.

The Sentinel elaborated on the special requirements:

Second, the measure requires higher courts to take appeals of a trial court order in a Foxconn case even if the order is not final. In general, appellate courts have to take appeals of the final judgments and orders made by trial courts but get to decide whether to take appeals of preliminary orders.

Finally, the trial court rulings in that litigation would be automatically stayed until the higher court decided what to do.

The Legislative Council determined that the courts could uphold the Foxconn court provisions and that it's "difficult to predict with certainty how a court may rule" in regards to whether the provisions are unconstitutional or not, the Sentinel reported.

By Charlie May

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Croneyism Foxconn Gop Lawmakers Gov. Scott Walker Neoliberalism Wisconsin Wisconsin Legislature