Wisconsin Supreme Court Strikes Down Stay-at-Home Order

The State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, where the legislature and Supreme Court both meet.

The State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, where the legislature and Supreme Court both meet. Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

The ruling, the outcome of the latest legislative challenge to Gov. Tony Evers' executive authority, leaves the state with a patchwork of city and county restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ extension of the state’s stay-at-home order, agreeing with Republican legislators that they need to have a voice in setting statewide measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus. 

Evers’ stay-at-home order was first issued on March 25, prohibiting most travel and shutting down nonessential businesses. Following the guidance of state health officials, he has since extended it twice, most recently through May 26. All measures of the statewide order have now been invalidated by the 4-3 ruling, which was issued by the court’s conservative majority,  leaving decisions about stay-at-home orders, protocols for reopening businesses, and requirements for masks at least for now in the hands of cities and counties.

The governor on Wednesday night said that he feared the ruling will lead to more people getting sick in the state, which already has more than 10,900 cases and at least 421 deaths. “We’re the Wild West,” Evers said during an appearance on MSNBC. “There are no restrictions at all across the state of Wisconsin. … We’re just leaving it open. We’re going to have more cases. We’re going to have more deaths. And it’s a sad occasion for the state.”

Republican state lawmakers have long sparred with Evers over his executive powers, successfully limiting some of them before he took office earlier this year. 

During the high court’s hearing about the challenge to the stay-at-home order brought by Republican legislators, justices questioned whether State Health Secretary Andrea Palm had the authority to implement statewide restrictions on people’s movements. The court eventually ruled Palm should have consulted members of the state legislature before issuing any orders for the state. “We do not conclude that Palm was without any power to act in the face of this pandemic,” the majority opinion reads. “However, Palm must follow the law that is applicable to state-wide emergencies.”

Republican members of the legislature, along with President Trump, celebrated the ruling. “[Wisconsin's] Democrat Governor was forced by the courts to let the state open,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “The people want to get on with their lives. The place is bustling!”

The three dissenting justices on the court, including one conservative, seemed to agree with Evers’ assessment that the decision will harm public health. “This decision will undoubtedly go down as one of the most blatant examples of judicial activism in this court’s history,” Justice Rebecca Dallet wrote in her dissent. “And it will be Wisconsinites who pay the price.”

Within hours of the ruling, some businesses announced that they were immediately reopened. Patrons flooded some reopened bars and taverns, many of them without masks and virtually none of them practicing social distancing from each other. Some bars established additional cleaning protocols or spaced tables farther apart, but there are no statewide guidelines for how to reopen safely. In some states, for example, officials are allowing restaurants to reopen, but limiting capacity in order to create space between tables. 

Evers seemed particularly worried about how the hodgepodge of county and city stay-at-home orders and mandates for businesses will impact companies across the state in different ways. Bars and other establishments that have been waiting eagerly to get back to work will now have to consult a shifting landscape of local regulations to determine if it is legal to open their doors again and, if so, what new measures they must take to make the experience more safe for customers and staff. “Different counties are saying, ‘Bring it on.’ Other counties are saying, ‘No, we don’t want this to happen,’” Evers said. “So suddenly it’s a 72-county affair, which is going to be very confusing to people in the state."

Cities and counties sprung into action on Wednesday night to clarify whether or not their local orders regarding the pandemic would remain in place after the statewide order was removed. The state’s largest cities and counties, including Milwaukee, Kenosha, Racine, and Dane County, which contains the capital city of Madison, have all implemented or extended local orders that contain part or all of the statewide measures put in place by Evers.

In Brown County, which includes Green Bay, Public Health Officer Anna Destree released a statement saying their approach would not change with the Supreme Court ruling. "This virus knows no boundaries, including county lines, and the most effective way to prevent, control and suppress Covid-19 is for state officials and the state legislature to work together and implement a statewide approach,” she said. “That has not occurred, and therefore reasonable and necessary local actions must be taken … It would be irresponsible to do otherwise.”

Some county leaders, including in more rural areas like Winnebago, have announced they will not be implementing local measures, saying that “people wouldn’t be receptive.”

Wisconsin is the first state where the state Supreme Court ruled to strike down a stay-at-home order. Similar legal challenges have arisen in other states, including Illinois, California, Kentucky, Washington, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, although none of them have proved successful. State Supreme Courts have also considered challenges of local county stay-at-home orders, like one case in Texas that similarly proved unsuccessful.

As Wisconsin prepares for a patchwork of reopening procedures across the state, Evers issued a warning to residents on Twitter late Wednesday night. “Just because the Supreme Court says it’s okay to open, doesn’t mean that science does,” he wrote. “We need everyone to continue doing their part to keep our families, our neighbors and our communities safe by continuing to stay safer at home, practice social distancing, and limit travel.”

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
Corpus Christi Deploys COVID Management System to Improve Data & Eliminate Time-Consuming Tasks
Corpus Christi, TX, USA
Safer Holiday Celebrations Connect Residents and Support Local Business in Franklin, TN
Franklin, TN, USA
Mobile-first Crisis Communications in Dublin, OH
Dublin, OH, USA

NEXT STORY: A Coronavirus Order Requiring Businesses to Track Customers Is Challenged in Court

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.