The world looked on last week as the people of the United Kingdom consider whether to loosen the grip that a reported 40,000-plus Brussels bureaucrats have over their lives. But a decision far closer to home also offered a fascinating opportunity to consider our relation to government.

In a 5-2 ruling, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned a state appeals court decision that had allowed the City of Milwaukee to ignore a three-year-old state law barring all local governments from requiring that city or county employees reside in the jurisdiction which employs them.

In an indication of its contempt for the composition and leadership of the Legislature in a state still very much polarized politically from the bruising fight over right-to-work legislation, Milwaukee simply said “nope” to the state law. It passed a resolution announcing it would continue to enforce its residency requirement. City workers – represented by the police and firefighters unions — filed suit challenging the requirement.

The workers won the first round in court, but the Milwaukee Court of Appeals reversed on grounds that, if the law were enforced, Milwaukee’s home-rule powers would be violated. The appeals court admitted the state law prohibiting residency requirements applies to all municipalities, but that it might have a disproportionate impact in Milwaukee than in other jurisdictions. The opinion suggested that Milwaukee was “targeted” by the state Legislature.

Wisconsin’s state Constitution limits home-rule power in cases that are both a matter of statewide concern and where rules can be equally applied to all cities and villages – the local governments that have home-rule authority. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a brief supporting the city workers’ challenge. As institute President Rick Esenberg explained in a statement:

You cannot [build] a great city on coercion. You have to make it a place where people want to live. The legislature did the right thing and the Court was correct in concluding that all cities and villages, even Milwaukee, must follow state law.

No matter where you come down on whether the city should be allowed to do what it wants, or the state should endow all residents with protections against being told where to live, one of the intersecting points in both Wisconsin and in the United Kingdom “Brexit” vote is that workers and citizens generally are clearly becoming more aggressive in seeking relief from overregulation, where they possess the mechanism to do so. The elected branched of government will eventually catch on, and there could be an overall positive effect in relations with our various governments.


But for right now, an annual survey from Chapman University suggests that Americans currently fear their own government more than identity theft or economic collapse.

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