A dramatic few hours in the Capitol building in Madison. A Dane County court judge, John C. Albert, all Capitol access restrictions must be lifted by the Department of Administration. This allows open access to the Capitol for the public, including protesters, during business hours. Albert gave a deadline of March 8 at 8am (next Monday) for full implementation; if Gov. Walker and the DOA do not comply, they can be held in contempt of court. Albert also said in his ruling that there have been, based on his investigation, “no injuries or damage to personal or government property,” which is a direct shot at the bogus claim of millions of dollars in damages.

However, Albert’s ruling only applies to business hours. Therefore, the Capitol police moved to shut down the building today at 6:00pm. The DOA has the authority to clear out protesters in the Capitol after business hours.

The attorney in the case explained the ruling to the protesters in the Rotunda.

Just after the ruling, protesters found an opening at the State Street entrance to the Capitol. Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs then told them they had to leave after close of business hours or face arrest. After a few minutes, most protesters left. A few have stayed behind, waiting to read the judge’s order before leaving the Capitol.

For the most part, however, the protesters are claiming victory over Walker and the DOA’s lockdown of the past several days. Here’s the statement from the Wisconsin AFL-CIO:

This evening the court of law ruled that the Wisconsin State Capitol MUST remain open to its people. The Capitol is going to resume business hours and protestors will be asked to leave every night.

However, by law the Capitol doors must re-open at 8:00 am each and every morning so that Wisconsin residents can excercise their first amendment rights without undue interference from their Governor.

This ruling is a huge victory for Wisconsin and an enormous defeat for Gov. Scott Walker and his unconstitutional power grab. Despite Scott Walker’s draconian attempts to take his ‘baseball bat’ to the First Amendment rights of those who disagree with his extreme agenda, he has failed yet again to silence the voices of the 74% of Wisconsinites who oppose his budget repair bill.

Thomas Bird of the Capitol City Leadership Committee said to me via email, “We are leaving peacefully now. We won the lawsuit.”

Basically, what it means is that the protesters cannot occupy the building overnight, but they cannot be denied access during business hours. They see this as a victory for the moral authority of their side, and I see no reason to doubt that.

Besides, by night they can stay outside by the palm trees.