Wisconsin Supreme Court strikes down governor’s mask mandate

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MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate, ruling that the Democrat exceeded his authority by unilaterally extending the mandate for months through multiple emergency orders.

The 4-3 ruling from the conservative-controlled court is the latest legal blow to attempts by Evers to control the coronavirus. It comes after Republicans in the Legislature voted to repeal the mask mandate in February, only to see Evers quickly re-issue it.

The court last May struck down Evers’ “safer at home” order, saying that his health secretary did not have the authority for such an order. Evers’ attempts to limit capacity in bars, restaurants and other indoor places were also blocked by a state appeals court in October.

In the latest case, the court ruled that any public health emergency issued by Evers is valid for just 60 days and can’t be extended without legislative approval.

“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.

Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, a member of the court’s three-justice minority, lamented in a dissent that the ruling hampers the ability of governors in Wisconsin to protect lives.

“This is no run-of-the-mill case,” she 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. And with the stakes so high, the majority not only arrives at erroneous conclusions, but it also obscures the consequence of its decision. Unfortunately, the ultimate consequence of the majority’s decision is that it places yet another roadblock to an effective governmental response to COVID-19.”