In a 4-3 decision on Wednesday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court blocked Gov. Tony Evers from issuing new public health emergencies—and with them, new mask mandates—without the approval of the state Legislature. Wisconsin’s mask mandate was set to expire on Monday. Evers had said he would extend it if he could. But now he can’t. And the mask mandate is dead, effectively immediately.
Local mask mandates—including Milwaukee’s—remain legal and in effect.
Months after hearing initial arguments, all four conservative supreme court judges determined that today—near the end of this goddamn thing—was a good time to do this. Three liberal judges thought it was not.
“The question in this case is not whether the governor acted wisely, it is whether he acted lawfully,” said Justice Brian Hagedorn, writing for the majority. “We conclude he did not.”
“This is no run-of-the-mill case,” said Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, writing for the minority. “We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic…with the stakes so high, the majority not only arrives at erroneous conclusions, but it also obscures the consequence of its decision.”
Evers responded to Wednesday’s decision on Twitter.
“Since the beginning of this pandemic, I’ve worked to keep Wisconsinites healthy and safe, and I’ve trusted the science and public health experts to guide our decision making,” he said. “Our fight against COVID-19 isn’t over—while we work to get folks vaccinated as quickly as we can, we know wearing a mask saves lives, and we still need Wisconsinites to mask up so we can beat this virus and bounce back from this pandemic.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes that the decision “could cut off $50 million a month in federal food assistance to low-income people.” Republicans forgot about this pesky detail back in February, leading to some jaw-dropping clown-car bullshit.
Also in February, the Republican-controlled Assembly voted to kill the state’s COVID-19 public health emergency and mask mandate; one hour later, Evers issued a new COVID-19 public health emergency and mask mandate, citing a “new, more contagious strains of the virus that causes COVID-19.”
Long at issue for Republicans, they have claimed, is not the lives of more than 6,000 people dead in the state, or the lives of the more than half-million people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the state. Instead, it’s Evers’ ability to extend a public health emergency past an initial 60-day period without the approval of the Legislature. Evers issued his original 60-day public health emergency—and with it a statewide mask mandate—on July 30, 2020. He extended it on September 22, citing “unprecedented, near exponential growth of the COVID-19 pandemic.” He extended it again on November 20 and January 19.
Back in February, 59 groups had registered their opposition to killing the mask mandate. The Wisconsin Medical Society, the Wisconsin Public Health Association, the Medical College of Wisconsin, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative, the Wisconsin Assisted Living Association, and the Wisconsin Council of Churches were among those groups.
“The Governor’s mask mandate saves lives,” the Wisconsin Council of Churches said in a statement. “Ending it will cost lives.”
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