Six months after a lawsuit was first filed, the Wisconsin state Supreme Court struck down on Thursday Gov. Tony Evers’ order requiring masks to be worn statewide amid COVID-19, UPI reported.
In a 4–3 ruling, the high court’s justices said the Democrat went beyond his authority as governor by enacting a mask mandate without the support of the state legislature.
“The question in this case is not whether the governor acted wisely; it is whether he acted lawfully,” Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote for the court’s majority, according to UPI. “We conclude he did not.”
Of course, the decision was a hotly contested one. Writing for the court’s minority, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley complained that the ruling would inhibit the governor from safeguarding public health.
“This is no run-of-the-mill case. We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic,” she wrote, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “[W]ith the stakes so high, the majority not only arrives at erroneous conclusions, but it also obscures the consequence of its decision.”
Current state law permits governors to issue a public health emergency for just 60 days, after which they are required to seek approval from the legislature for an extension.
In a statement, Wisconsin Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R) praised the court’s decision to uphold the law and hold state leaders accountable.
“Especially in trying times, our citizens need to know that there are still checks and balances in our government and that one man cannot claim powers he hasn’t been given by the people,” Steineke said, according to the Journal Sentinel.
According to UPI, the ruling does not affect mask mandates enacted by local governments, meaning ordinances in Wisconsin’s two most populous counties will remain intact.
Evers, for his part, addressed the ruling in a pair of tweets, writing: “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.”
The governor went on: “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.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) received widespread criticism last month after he announced an end to his own state’s mask mandate. However, Abbott revealed in a tweet last Friday that despite the change, the positivity rate for COVID-19 in Texas had declined to its lowest level since data started being recorded last year.