In a 4-3 decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court today (3/31) ruled that Gov. Tony Evers exceeded his authority by issuing multiple public health emergencies and related orders in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The case was brought last fall by a private citizen who asked the state Supreme Court to take original jurisdiction. Oral arguments took place in November. The decision holds the governor’s existing emergency order (#105), which was set to expire on Monday, April 5, to be unlawful.
Writing for the majority, Justice Brian Hagedorn noted, “The question in this case is not whether the Governor acted wisely; it is whether he acted lawfully. We conclude he did not.“
“Justice Brian Hagedorn, in the majority opinion, wrote that state law on public health emergencies “must be read to forbid the governor from proclaiming repeated states of emergency for the same enabling condition absent legislative approval.”
“Hagedorn added the guv’s power “to act unilaterally on an emergency basis is limited by both a 60-day limit and by the legislature’s power to terminate the emergency declaration.”
“Hagedorn was joined by fellow conservatives Rebecca Bradley, Pat Roggensack and Annette Ziegler in his decision.
“State law gives governors the power to declare a public health emergency that lasts for up to 60 days unless the Legislature approves an extension. Evers issued his first public health declaration March 12, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the state. He subsequently issued a stay-at-home order. Once that was about to expire, his Department of Health Services secretary issued a second directive that the state Supreme Court later overturned, ruling she had exceeded her authority under state law.
“Evers then issued a new public health emergency on July 30 that served as the foundation for his first statewide mask mandate. He has followed that up with additional emergency declarations and mask mandates. That includes one issued in February immediately after the Legislature voted to overturn one of the declarations.
“Hagedorn wrote in today’s decision Evers exceeded his authority in doing so and declared the action unlawful.
Read the Supreme Court’s decision.
In response to the decision, Gov. Evers issued the following statement:
“Since the beginning of this pandemic, I’ve worked to keep Wisconsinites healthy and safe, and I’ve trusted the science and public health experts to guide our decision making. Our fight against COVID-19 isn’t over—while we work to get folks vaccinated as quickly as we can, we know wearing a mask saves lives, and we still need Wisconsinites to mask up so we can beat this virus and bounce back from this pandemic.”