The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled against Gov. Tony Evers, striking down the governor’s ability to issue repeated emergency declarations related to the COVID-19 pandemic and ending the statewide mask mandate.
“The question in this case is not whether the Governor acted wisely; it is whether he acted lawfully,” conservative justice Brian Hagedorn wrote in the court’s majority opinion. “We conclude he did not.”
The ruling immediately ends Wisconsin’s statewide mask mandate. Local government mandates, where they exist, can remain in effect.
Under state law, governors have the power to issue public health emergencies, but those emergencies can only last for 60 days, unless they are extended by the state Legislature. Evers has issued several emergencies related to the COVID-19 pandemic since last March. None of them have been extended by the Legislature.
In the majority opinion, Hagedorn wrote the decision isn’t, and shouldn’t be, about making sure the governor has the power to respond to the pandemic adequately or ensuring executive powers aren’t too expansive — it is, he argued, about whether Evers followed the law.
“Whether the policy choices reflected in the law give the governor too much or too little authority to respond to the present health crisis does not guide our analysis,” Hagedorn wrote. “Our inquiry is simply whether the law gives the governor the authority to successively declare states of emergency in this circumstance.”