MADISON – The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that Gov. Tony Evers exceeded his authority to issue multiple health emergencies, including a statewide mask mandate, related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 4-3 ruling overturns Gov. Tony Evers’ latest 60-day public health declaration, issued in February. It was set to expire next Monday (April 5). 

The high court’s ruling doesn’t impact the public health emergencies and mask mandates (including the City of Racine) that some local communities have in effect.

State law gives governors the power to declare a public health emergency that lasts for up to 60 days unless the Legislature approves an extension. Evers issued his first public health declaration March 12, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the state. After the Supreme Court struck down a Department of Health Services (DHS) stay-at-home order last summer, Evers issued a new public health emergency last July 30 that served as the foundation for his first statewide mask mandate. He has since followed that up with additional emergency declarations.

Elected Officials React

Statement from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester: “The Wisconsin Supreme Court confirmed what we already knew. Governor Evers exceeded his authority by issuing multiple emergency orders without consulting the Legislature. People and businesses are free to make decisions based on what’s best for them and don’t need state government telling them how to live their lives.”

Statement from Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine: “This case was never about the nature of the emergency. Good intentions, ‘science’, and fear are not reasons to disobey the law. The statute does not grant exceptions, no matter the cause. By ignoring the law repeatedly, Evers decided to make this a political issue.  Gov. Evers extended the emergency without the Legislature’s consent in violation of the law, and blatantly ignored the legislature’s action to end the emergency. As Abraham Lincoln said ‘Laws without enforcement are merely good advice.’ Today, the Supreme Court enforced the rule of law. People will certainly claim this is a partisan and political decision. It is only a partisan result if you think statutes only apply to one political party. They don’t.”

Statement from Gov. Evers: “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. 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.”

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