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Federal Suit Challenges Local Wisconsin Stay-At-Home Orders

Chuck Quirmbach
Nickel’s Pub on Greenfield avenue in New Berlin reopened after the Wisconsin Supreme Court's ruling that tossed out the statewide safer-at-home order.";

Updated at 4:40 p.m. CT

Business owners, candidates for office, a pastor and one of the organizers of last month's “reopen Wisconsin” protest at the Wisconsin Capitol have filed a federal lawsuit alleging that local stay-at-home orders are unconstitutional.

The lawsuit, filed by 17 Wisconsin residents Wednesday in federal court in Milwaukee, challenges the local orders that took effect after the state Supreme Court last week tossed out Gov. Tony Evers' statewide “safer at home” order. The new lawsuit names 21 state and local Wisconsin public safety and health officials, including Evers and all members of the state elections commission, as defendants.

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The lawsuit asks the judge to declare the local orders unconstitutional and void them all.

The lawsuit claims violations of the constitutional rights of assembly, free speech, exercise of religion and equal protection. It also argued that two candidates for office, one for state Assembly and another for Congress, were impaired in their ability to circulate petitions to collect nomination signatures to get on the ballot because of local stay-at-home orders.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said last week that the local orders, many of which have already been rescinded, were legal. Ryan Nilsestuen, Evers’ attorney, said Thursday that he was confident the new lawsuit will “go nowhere," noting the Kaul opinion.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, whose county includes the capital city of Madison and has a stay-at-home order in place, promised to fight the lawsuit.

“This pandemic is the greatest threat to the public health and safety of families this generation will experience,” he said in a statement. "We will vigorously defend common sense provisions based on public health guidance to protect the well-being of the residents of Dane County. We do not want to become the next large community consumed by the ravages of this highly contagious, debilitating virus.”

Madison Marie Elmer, who organized a Capitol rally that attracted about 1,500 people last month, is among those bringing the lawsuit. Others include the Rev. Daniel Jay Quakkelaar, pastor of the Friend of Sinners Mission Church in Milwaukee; Cindy Werner, a Republican congressional candidate in Milwaukee; Jay Schroeder, a candidate for state Assembly in Neenah; and Blong Yang, owner of the Eggrolls Inc., restaurant in Appleton.

They are represented by Joseph Voiland of Veterans Liberty Law. Voiland served as an Ozaukee County Circuit Court judge from 2013-2019.

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