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Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers was dealt a blow as the state’s Supreme Court struck down his coronavirus pandemic lockdown order and allowed businesses to reopen.
The unprecedented ruling handed down Wednesday found that the there was an overreach of authority when the Democratic governor’s stay-at-home order was extended without consulting with the state Legislature. President Donald Trump’s son appropriately declared in a tweet that the court had “nuked” Evers’ lockdown extension order.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) May 13, 2020
In the wake of the 4-3 decision, the first ruling in the country where several states are facing similar pushback from residents angry at local governments overstepping their authority, prompted a wave of celebration as people immediately headed to bars and restaurants that were now allowed to open.
“I don’t think the risk presents any higher than me going to a grocery store or me being out in the community in any other sort of way,” Kathy Goedde, owner of Limanski’s Pub in West Allis told WTMJ-TV.
“I was watching the news, and I saw the order was overturned, so I was pretty happy about that, and then I just waited for the Tavern League to send out information and as soon as we got that, I mean, it was awesome,” customer Katie Koutski, a mother and full-time nurse, said.
Evers’ “Safer at Home” extension, which continued restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus until May 26 – past the original April 24 expiration – was challenged by Republican legislators. They filed the lawsuit last month with the conservative-controlled Supreme Court in the state, arguing that Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm should have consulted with the Legislature for approval before issuing it.
The court declared that the order was “unlawful, invalid, and unenforceable.”
“We further conclude that Palm’s order confining all people to their homes, forbidding travel and closing businesses exceeded the statutory authority … upon which Palm claims to rely,” the court said, noting that the political appointee has more limited powers than Evers, the first-term Democrat who can exercise emergency powers as governor.
Wisconsin lawmakers have long been looking to weaken Evers’ power, passing lame-duck legislation in 2018 as Republican Gov. Scott Walker prepared to leave office and Evers began his term. The wide-ranging bills effectively weakened the power of the governor’s office in the state, taking on the attorney general’s office and the electoral system, among other issues.
Though Republican lawmakers bringing the current lawsuit sought a six-day window to allow negotiations while the ruling remained, the court struck down the order effective immediately, lifting all restrictions on the size of gatherings, allowing travel and the reopening of shuttered businesses, including bars and restaurants.
“People, businesses and other institutions No. 2020AP765-OA 31 need to know how to proceed and what is expected of them. Therefore, we place the responsibility for this future law-making with the Legislature and DHS where it belongs.” the court ruled.
In a 4-3 ruling the State Supreme Court found the Emergency Orders issued by Secretary Palm as unlawful, invalid and unenforceable. The result of this decision is business can open immediately. Please follow the WEDC guidelines you can find on the TLW website.
— Tavern League of Wisconsin (@tavernleaguewi) May 13, 2020
“Today, Republican legislators convinced four members of the state Supreme Court to throw the state into chaos,” Evers said in a conference call Wednesday night, according to the Associated Press. “They have provided no plan. There’s no question among anybody that people are going to get sick. Republicans own that chaos.”
I am disappointed in this decision, but our top priority has been and will remain doing what we can and what we have to do to protect the health and safety of our state. After months of unproductive posturing, I hope the folks in the Legislature are ready to do the same.
— Governor Tony Evers (@GovEvers) May 14, 2020
The state’s Lt. Gov., Mandela Barnes expressed his disappointment on Twitter.
Disappointed but not surprised. They put lives at risk by forcing an election, of course they were going to double down. It’s like no lives matter. This is bad. https://t.co/URZJ5MJRPD
— Mandela Barnes (@TheOtherMandela) May 13, 2020
We’re still going to do everything we can to keep people safe. Major credit is due to the many local and tribal governments who recognized the urgency and responded appropriately. The people you represent need your leadership now more than ever.
— Mandela Barnes (@TheOtherMandela) May 13, 2020
“Rule-making exists precisely to ensure that kind of controlling, subjective judgment asserted by one unelected official, Palm, is not imposed in Wisconsin,” Chief Justice Patience Roggensack wrote for the court’s 5-2 conservative majority in the ruling.
The decision will “undoubtedly go down as one of the most blatant examples of judicial activism in this court’s history,” liberal Justice Rebecca Dallet wrote in the dissent. “And it will be Wisconsinites who pay the price.”
Brian Hagedorn, the court’s other conservative, joined Dallet along with liberal justice Ann Walsh Bradley in the dissent. The governor did not immediately have a plan to appeal the decision but said: “in the meantime, we’re going to have 72 counties doing their own thing.”
“I can’t believe there’s a state in the nation with this type of chaos,” Evers said.
And while Democrats and others slammed the court’s ruling for potentially endangering Wisconsin residents, many pointed out that no one was forcing people to venture out or go to restaurants.
“The onus is now on the individual,” state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said. “If you don’t feel comfortable going into a restaurant or church then don’t go. You should be very comfortable with that situation.”
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