Wisconsin Supreme Court strikes down Democratic governor's mask mandate as the state faces possible coronavirus surge

  • The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled against Gov. Tony Evers’ mask mandate Wednesday.
  • The court ruled Evers violated state law by issuing extensions of the order throughout the pandemic.
  • The decision comes as the state faces a rise in cases and officials warn of a possible surge.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate Wednesday, right as the state sees an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases and faces another potential surge.

In a 4-3 decision, the conservative majority court ruled Evers, a Democrat, violated state law and exceeded his authority by unilaterally issuing multiple emergency orders during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

After lawmakers opted not to require face coverings indoors, Evers used the emergency declarations to impose and extend the mandate four times over the past year, including as recently as February. The court found that after the expiration of the first 60-day mandate, which Evers issued in August, the governor needed legislative approval to expand the order.

“The question in this case is not whether the governor acted wisely; it is whether he acted lawfully. We conclude he did not,” Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote in the majority opinion.

State law says governors can issue health emergencies for 60 days, after which the legislature must approve any extensions. Evers argued he could issue new emergency declarations without lawmakers’ approval in the face of an unpredictable pandemic.

Ultimately, the court disagreed with the governor — and not for the first time. The ruling is yet another defeat for Evers after the state Supreme Court struck down his stay-at-home order in May, and a state appeals court blocked his attempts to limit capacity indoors in October, according to The Associated Press.

The decision comes as the state grapples with another round of rising COVID-19 cases. The seven-day daily average jumped from fewer than 400 cases earlier this month to more than 500 as of Tuesday, the AP reported. A state health official told the outlet the state is seeing “warning signs” of another possible surge in infections. 

Evers responded to the defeat in a series of tweets Wednesday morning, saying he’s “worked to keep Wisconsinites healthy and safe” since the beginning of the pandemic, and has “trusted the science and public health experts to guide … decision making.”

 

Mask mandates remain in place at the local level, including in many cities and counties across the state. 

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote in the dissenting opinion that the court’s ruling hurts Evers’ ability to try and save lives.

“This is no run-of-the-mill case,” she wrote. “We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that so far has claimed the lives of over a half million people in this country. And with the stakes so high, the majority not only arrives at erroneous conclusions, but it also obscures the consequence of its decision. Unfortunately, the ultimate consequence of the majority’s decision is that it places yet another roadblock to an effective governmental response to COVID-19.”

Republican lawmakers celebrated the decision Wednesday, according to the AP, saying people and businesses should be free to make their own decisions and “don’t need state government telling them how to live their lives.” 

The lawsuit challenging the order was filed six months ago as Wisconsin faced the worst surge resulting in thousands of deaths, according to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

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