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Wisconsin Supreme Court Hears Arguments, Set To Rule Soon In GOP Case Against Safer-At-Home Order

Chuck Quirmbach
The Wisconsin Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling in a case that pits Republicans who control the state Legislature against Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and his safer-at-home order.

Emotions ran high Tuesday, as the Wisconsin Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that pits Republicans who control the state Legislature against Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and his safer-at-home order.

Evers issued the order in late March to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. It mandates people to stay at home unless they’re performing essential work or errands, or exercising outdoors. The order also required nonessential businesses to close and banned public gatherings.

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The safer-at-home order was set to expire in late April, but Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm extended it to May 26 at the governor’s direction. Republican leaders then filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court demanding that the state lift the order and begin reopening the economy. In court Tuesday, Attorney Ryan Walsh, representing the Republicans, said Palm overstepped her bounds in extending the order.

“This is the broadest, most sweeping order we know of in Wisconsin history. The agency, for whatever reason, chose to go it alone, without relying on the governor’s authority, extending its own authority and that is why we are here today,” Walsh says.

Walsh says the order is, in essence, an administrative rule that should have been subject to legislative approval. Conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley blasted the order and its extension. She questioned the legality of the directive.

“Isn’t it the very definition of tyranny for one person to order people to be imprisoned for going to work among other ordinarily lawful activities? Where does the constitution say that’s permissible, counsel?” she asked.

Attorney Colin Roth defended the order for the state. He says the Wisconsin Constitution allows the Legislature to enact laws to fight diseases and protect public health. He argued that in the past, the Legislature adopted a measure granting the Department of Health Services such broad authority.

“So, I think that expression of legislative intent that grants DHS the power to do whatever is necessary to combat a novel deadly communicable disease like the one we’re facing today is where we find that consent,” Roth says.

Roth implored the court to rule against lifting the order. He says it would only put more lives at risk.

“If safer-at-home is enjoined with nothing to replace it and people pour out into the streets, the disease will spread like wildfire, and we will be back into a terrible situation of an out-of-control virus with no weapons to fight it. No treatments, no vaccine, nothing,” Roth says.

The court conducted arguments in the case via teleconference on Tuesday. It’s expected to issue a ruling soon. 

During this pandemic, WUWM's Bubbler Talk is focusing on the coronavirus and its impact on the Milwaukee area. If you have a question, submit it below.


Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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