Wisconsin’s “safer at home” lockdown order, set to expire by 26th May, was initially extended by Governor Tony Evers. Evers, like many other state leaders, sought to mitigate the current pandemic by issuing the extension for most non-essential businesses, although he had already loosened restrictions for some storefronts and workers based on calculated safety measures. But in a historical ruling, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court denied the administration's right to extend the order on 13th Wednesday May, causing a wave of confusion for residents both in and out of the state.
In a 4-3 decision, Republicans sitting in state legislature seats ultimately ruled that the Health Secretary official Andrea Palm abused her power, and that the order should have been issued as a rule. But what does that mean for Wisconsin?
Ultimately, Governor Evers will now have to work closely with the state legislature to come to a compromise about the future of any order. The court’s ruling is "effective immediately,” so Wisconsin is once again open for business for the time being — and that could be bad news for people in the state, as crowds have swarmed to bars and public spaces. “Republican legislators have convinced 4 members of the Supreme Court to throw Wisconsin into chaos, putting public health and lives at serious risk,” Governor Evers tweeted last night.
Though the legislature argued that Palm abused her powers in creating the order without their counsel, the Evers administration has contested that the health secretary does have the authority to issue orders during emergencies like a pandemic.
Justice Rebecca Dallet explained that the decision would "go down as one of the most blatant examples of judicial activism in the court's history" in her dissenting opinion, and warned that people in Wisconsin will “pay the price” for the state legislature’s need for instituting a "time-consuming, lengthy rulemaking scheme." However, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court ruling isn’t just about one state, it’s about how the dissenting argument could influence other states as well.
In Michigan, conservative legislative leaders sued Governor Gretchen Whitmer for her stay at home order just last week, arguing that Governor Whitmer’s extension of the state of emergency was unlawful. Despite this, the governor’s press secretary stated that she's “making decisions based on science and data, not political or legal pressure.” There, protests have broken out in droves, organised by groups of people who want the state officially reopened.
Recently in Ohio, a bridal shop sued Ohio’s State Health Director, Amy Acton, with the owner alleging that forcing her to shut down violates her constitutional rights. And in Virginia, the Department of Justice backed a church’s request to be exempt from the state’s shutdown, though denied the lawsuit that was filed.
Although there’s still time for another order to be put in place for Wisconsin, the court ultimately decided that the order must come from them and not from the governor’s administration. With states like Florida, Texas, California and more that have already begun to reopen against the advice of experts and scientists, Wisconsin's decision may set a precedent for other states looking to overpower Governor's orders. And, with Michigan fighting to reopen against Governor Whitmer’s orders, fears surmount that the Wisconsin Supreme Court's ruling may seep into the decision-making in other locations at odds.
Ultimately, actions like this one could inspire other state legislatures to push back against governors’ orders, making shutdown orders more difficult to keep in place.