Wisconsin Supreme Court Throws Out Safer-At-Home Order

“When you have no requirements anymore, that’s a problem. We’re going to have more cases. We’re going to have more deaths.”

People hold signs during a protest against the coronavirus shutdown in front of State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 24, 2020. | Getty Images
People hold signs during a protest against the coronavirus shutdown in front of State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 24, 2020. | Getty Images

Wisconsin’s highest court ruled 4-3 on Wednesday to throw out the state’s safer at-home order — an outcome that President Trump called a “win” on Thursday morning.

After the decision by the court’s conservative majority, crowds were photographed packing into bars without masks. Gov. Tony Evers (D) responded to the ruling on national television Wednesday night, calling his state “the Wild West” and noting restrictions have in recent weeks been successful in containing the deadly virus.

“In this one fell swoop, four judges… have thrown our state into chaos,” Evers said in an interview with MSNBC. “When you have no requirements anymore, that’s a problem. We’re going to have more cases. We’re going to have more deaths. And it’s a sad occasion for the state.”

Evers said that it didn’t appear Republicans had a plan on how to handle the lack of restrictions, but he would aim to work with them on Thursday. Local governments can still set their own restrictions. Officials in Dane County, where the state capitol of Madison is located, issued restrictions soon after the court’s ruling.

Shortly after the decision, the state’s Tavern League, a trade association of retailers that sell alcohol, posted that businesses “can open immediately.” Some bars across the state then proceeded to reopen, according to multiple local reports.

In its ruling, the Wisconsin Supreme Court found that the governor “cannot rely on emergency powers indefinitely” regarding the safer-at-home order. Justice Rebecca Bradley also cited Korematsu v. United States, in which the Supreme Court allowed the United States to intern Japanese citizens, to argue against the state’s “exercise of extraordinary power during times of emergency [that] may lead to extraordinary abuses of its citizens,” the Washington Post reported.

The ruling came after Republican legislators in April filed a lawsuit against the state health chief who approved the safer-at-home order extension until May 26. The lawsuit claimed that the orders would hurt companies and residents’ ability to keep jobs, CNN reported.

In a joint statement after filing the suit, state Rep. Robin Vos and Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald cited “immense frustration regarding the extension, as it goes beyond the executive branch’s statutory powers.”

On Wednesday, the GOP legislators issued a new statement commending the Supreme Court’s decision, saying residents could still “follow good practices of social distancing, hand washing, hand sanitizer usage and telecommuting.” 

“This order does not promote people to act in a way that they believe endangers their health,” Rep. Vos and Sen. Fitzgerald said. “We would urge the Evers administration to work with us to begin promulgating rules that would provide clear guidance in case COVID-19 reoccurs in a more aggressive way."

Trump tweeted about the judicial outcome in Wisconsin on Thursday morning. 

“The people want to get on with their lives. The place is bustling!” he wrote.

A poll by Marquette University published Tuesday found 69% of people in Wisconsin agreed with the state’s safer-at-home order, though it marked a decrease from 86% approval in March. At least six other polls have shown that the majority of Americans across both political parties support restrictions as recently as late April. 

“We cannot let today's ruling undo all the work we have done and all the sacrifices Wisconsinites have made over these past few months,” Evers said in a statement on Wednesday. “We need everyone to continue doing their part... by continuing to stay safer at home, practice social distancing, and limit travel.”

He added: “Folks, deadly viruses don't wait around for politicians and bureaucrats to settle their differences or promulgate rules.”
As of Thursday, the coronavirus has infected more than 10,900 people in Wisconsin including more than 400 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

More than half of U.S. states have partially reopened, despite repeated warnings from public health experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci that doing so could lead to “a second wave” of infections. The New York Times also reported that many of the reopened states have failed to meet the federal guidelines that President Trump introduced in mid-April. 

Clashes over stay-at-home orders have popped up across the country in recent weeks. In California, county officials could force residents of Los Angeles to follow stay-at-home orders for the next several months; in Michigan, armed protesters stormed the capitol to demand the state reopen. In Georgia, one of the earliest states to partially reopen, mayors disagreed with the governor’s decision. In Iowa, workers stood to lose unemployment benefits if they refused to return to work as the state moved to reopen despite climbing COVID-19 cases.