By a 4-3 majority, the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ “Safer at Home” order, finding that it is unlawful, invalid and unenforceable.
The 'Safer at Home' order was an attempt to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in the state and keep the health care system from becoming overwhelmed by a potential surge in patients. Several businesses were deemed "essential" by the order and allowed to maintain full or partial operations, but the order also had the affect of shutting down much of the state's economy, resulting in significant job losses since it was put in place by Evers in late March. Evers had recently eased some of the restrictions of "Safer at Home," which was set to expire on May 26.
The action by the state Supreme Court means all businesses in the state can for now resume normal operations, although local governments may attempt to put their own restrictions in place.
Chief Justice Pat Roggensack wrote the majority opinion, determining that the order constituted a rule and would be subject to rule making procedures that were not followed for the order.
Republican lawmakers, who brought the legal challenge, had asked the court to issue a temporary injection against the order but then stay the injunction for at least six days. But the majority rejected that option, adding that more than two weeks had passed since the case started. Therefore, "Safer at Home" is immediately struck down by the court.
“We trust that the Legislature and (Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea) Palm have placed the interests of the people of Wisconsin first and have been working together in good faith to establish a lawful rule that addresses COVID-19 and its devastating effects on Wisconsin. People, businesses and other institutions need to know how to proceed and what is expected of them,” the majority wrote.
The court left “responsibility for this future law-making with the Legislature and DHS where it belongs.”
Beyond ruling that the order is unenforceable, the court found that there could be no criminal penalties for violating the order.
Business groups in the state have urged Evers to drop "Safer at Home," saying the state's economy needs to reopen and that efforts to "flatten the curve" of COVID-19 infections have been successful. In response to the court's ruling, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce resident and chief executive officer Kurt Bauer said, “We commend the state Supreme Court for upholding the rule of law and understanding that coequal branches of government must work together, especially in times of crisis. Today’s decision is a win for the state’s economy, countless businesses and hundreds of thousands of unemployed Wisconsinites who are ready to get back to work. WMC looks forward to working collaboratively with the legislature and Gov. Evers to ensure the state begins its economic recovery in a safe and sustainable way so we can protect both lives and livelihoods.”
Evers responded to the court's ruling with this statement Wednesday night, "Up until now, Wisconsin was in a pretty good place in our battle against COVID-19. We had reached almost all our gating criteria (to end 'Safer at Home'). We had opened up 14,000 small businesses across the state, putting 90,000 folks back to work, and that was because of the good work of Wisconsinites across our state who banded together, stayed home, and stayed safe. Despite that good work, Republican legislators have convinced four justices to throw our state into chaos.
“We cannot let today's ruling undo all the work we have done and all the sacrifices Wisconsinites have made over these past few months. 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, because folks, deadly viruses don't wait around for politicians and bureaucrats to settle their differences or promulgate rules.“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.”
This is a breaking news story and will be updated.