The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate on Wednesday.
The conservative-leaning court ruled 4-3 that Evers violated state law by unilaterally issuing multiple emergency orders to extend the mandate for months. The court found Evers needed legislative approval to issue more orders after the initial 60-day mandate he issued in August expired.
“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 for the majority.
The decision marks another legal defeat for Evers.
The Supreme Court in May struck down his stay-at-home order, finding that his health secretary lacked the authority to issue such an order. A state appeals court blocked Evers’ attempts to limit capacity in bars, restaurants and other indoor places in October.
Local mask mandates remain in place. Milwaukee and Dane County, home to the state capital of Madison, both have issued such mandates.
Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
“This is no run-of-the-mill case,” Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, a member of the court’s three-justice minority, 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. … Unfortunately, the ultimate consequence of the majority’s decision is that it places yet another roadblock to an effective governmental response to COVID-19.”
Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, who defended the mask order, issued a statement urging people to continue to wear masks.
Republican lawmakers applauded the ruling. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said in a statement that Evers abused his power and the court’s decision affirms the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches.
“The governor’s repeated abuse of emergency powers and pervasive violation of state statute created a state of chaos and had to be stopped,” LeMahieu said.
Evers had argued that he can issue multiple health orders because of the changing nature of the pandemic.
The mask order first took effect in August and Evers extended it four times since then, most recently on Feb. 4 immediately after Republican legislators repealed it.
Hagedorn joined with the liberal justices in supporting Evers stay-at-home order in May. His stance then gave Democrats hope that he would cast the deciding vote to uphold the mask mandate.
But during oral arguments in the mask case on Nov. 16, Hagedorn questioned Evers’ authority to renew health emergencies beyond the 60-day limit. He said it was an “extraordinary grant of short-term power to the governor.”
The case challenging the mask mandate was brought by Jere Fabick, a major Republican donor in Wisconsin and president of a multi-state Caterpillar equipment and engine dealer.
Mask mandates and other coronavirus restrictions are falling by the wayside elsewhere in the country as well.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison announced Tuesday he is dropping the state’s mask mandate immediately, a day earlier than previously announced.
“We made our decision in Arkansas based upon the criteria we set,” said the Republican, who last month set targets for positive tests and hospitalizations in order for the state’s mandate to expire.
“This is a goal we had. We achieved that, so we stuck with the principle that was outlined.”
Republican Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey intends for her state’s mask mandate to end on April 9 as planned, though she urged people to wear masks as a matter of personal responsibility.
“We have made progress, and we are moving towards personal responsibility and common sense, not endless government mandates,” Gina Maiola, Ivey’s spokeswoman, said.
The Republican-controlled Arizona Senate voted Monday to rescind its mandatory mask policy, and the House speaker made the same move on his own authority.
That action comes on the heels of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s move last week to lift remaining virus restrictions.
The Republican’s executive order allows businesses to enforce mask mandates and distancing requirements if they want, but cities, towns and counties must lift theirs.
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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