The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down a statewide coronavirus stay-at-home order on Wednesday, siding with a legal challenge from Republican lawmakers who said the state’s top public health official exceeded her authority by imposing the restrictions.
At stake in Wisconsin was a “Safer at Home” order that had been extended through May 26 by the state’s secretary for the Department of Health Services, Andrea Palm, acting at the direction of Governor Tony Evers.
The court ruled that while Evers, a first-term Democrat, possesses emergency powers as governor, the stay-at-home directive was effectively imposed by Palm, whose discretion as a political appointee is more limited.
“We further conclude that Palm’s order confining all people to their homes, forbidding travel and closing businesses exceeded the statutory authority … upon which Palm claims to rely,” the court said.
The two highest-ranking leaders of Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature, House Speaker Robin Vos and Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald, praised the ruling.
The decision, they said in a joint statement, “allows people to once again gather with their loved ones or visit their places of worship without the fear of violating a state order.”
They urged small business owners to follow guidelines issued by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation on how to safely open up the state.
“Wisconsin now joins multiple states that don’t have extensive ‘stay at home orders’ but can continue to follow good practices of social distancing, hand washing, hand sanitizer usage and telecommuting,” Vos and Fitzgerald said.