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MADISON, WI — The Wisconsin Supreme Court has struck down the state's Safer At Home order, stating that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' administration overstepped their legal boundaries when crafting the order.
Under the ruling, the Wisconsin Supreme Court concluded that the Safer At Home order was "unlawful, invalid and unenforceable." The court ruling was 4-3 in favor of striking down the governor's emergency order.
Wisconsin, which has drawn the attention of federal officials with the Department of Homeland Security for possessing one of the country's highest COVID-19 case growth rates, has now seen its statewide order governing everything from school and business closures to nonessential travel and social distancing, overturned. The court's decision is effective immediately.
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In the majority opinion issued Wednesday night, the State Supreme Court stated that Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm did not follow the law in creating the Safer At Home Order, and as a result, there can be no criminal penalties for violations of her order.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) was an ardent backer of the lawsuit, and said Wednesday night that he's looking to come up with a new plan for opening the state back up in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
"When we met with Governor Evers a week ago, we asked him to begin negotiating with us on a plan for reopening. He politely declined and said we should wait for the court decision. Now that the decision has been rendered, we are confident Wisconsin citizens are up to the task of fighting the virus as we enter a new phase," Vos wrote.
Gov. Evers said Wednesday night's ruling was a setback, but that if Wisconsin residents continue to act with public health and safety in mind, the state can persevere through the pandemic. In the meantime, Evers wrote, he's hoping state lawmakers can put together a good enough plan moving forward.
“This virus has killed more than 400 of our family members, friends, and neighbors and thousands more across our state are sick. I am disappointed in the decision today, 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 the people of our state. After months of unproductive posturing, I hope the folks in the Legislature are ready to do the same,” Evers wrote.
Prior to the lawsuit, Evers directed State Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm to extend the order from April 24 to May 27.
In their lawsuit, Republican state legislators claimed that an "un-elected, unconfirmed cabinet secretary laid claim to a suite of czar-like powers—unlimited in scope and indefinite in duration—over the people of Wisconsin."
Republican lawmakers in their lawsuit sought a six-day reprieve from the Stay At Home order - enough time, they thought, to craft and implement a new order moving forward.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court didn't see it that way.
"Although a very unusual request, on April 21, 2020, the Legislature asked this court to issue a temporary injunction of [the Safer At Home order] but then requested a stay of that injunction for at least six days. We perceive this request as being grounded in a concern for an orderly transition from [Safer At Home] to a lawful rule," the court wrote in their majority opinion.
Instead, the court wrote that they "trust that the Legislature and Palm have placed the interest of the people of Wisconsin first and have been working together in good faith." For that reason, the court struck down the Safer At Home order in full, and are now leaving it up to lawmakers and the DHS to come up with something different.
Lawmakers were split on the issue, largely along party lines. State Sen. Chris Kapenga of Waukesha County praised the court's decision.
"Effective immediately, Wisconsin is back open. It is now up to each individual person to decide how restrictive they feel they need to be, instead of the government mandating it. The legislature will now begin to work through how to properly handle these situations should they arise in the future,” State Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) wrote Wednesday night.
Others, like Racine Mayor Cory Mason, a former Democratic state representative, criticized the court's ruling.
"This reckless decision will almost certainly mean that the pandemic lasts longer and the health consequences will be even more severe, particularly in places like Racine which is seeing a spike in cases and savage disparities among communities of color. I urge City residents to continue to take the necessary steps to protect yourself, your families, and the community,” he wrote Wednesday night.