HUDSON — A St. Croix County judge on Monday, Oct. 12, denied a temporary injunction request in a lawsuit to block Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate and extended COVID-19 emergency declaration.
“Today’s ruling is a victory in our fight against COVID-19 and our efforts to keep the people of Wisconsin safe and healthy during this unprecedented crisis,” Evers said in a statement reacting to the court decision.
Circuit Court Judge R. Michael Waterman ruled that Evers is allowed to issue successive emergency declarations for a continuing crisis, and that doing so does not sidestep the 60-day limit imposed on such orders.
“The 60-day limit provides an important check against run-away executive power, but it does not prevent the governor from issuing a new executive order when the emergency conditions continue to exist,” Waterman wrote in his decision.
He further put the onus on the state Legislature — not the court system — to end the emergency declaration before the 60 days are up.
“The legislature can end the state of emergency at anytime, but so far, it has declined to do so,” Waterman wrote. “As the statewide representative body of the citizens of Wisconsin, the legislature’s inaction is relevant and it weighs against judicial intervention, especially when the requested intervention will have statewide impact.”
Conservative law group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty requested an injunction Sept. 28 in the lawsuit originally filed in August on behalf of three Wisconsinites challenging Evers’ power to issue multiple orders for the same crisis without approval from the Legislature. The Democratic governor issued an emergency declaration July 30 and extended it Sept. 22.
The group intends to appeal the judge’s decision, according to WILL President Rick Esenberg.
"It is with regret that the Judge held that the Governor of the State of Wisconsin can rule the state by decree for an unlimited amount of time with the acquiescence of the legislature," Esenberg is quoted as saying in a Twitter post Monday morning.
WILL President @RickEsenberg on today's decision in Polk County Circuit Court: "It is with regret that the Judge held that the Governor of the State of Wisconsin can rule the state by decree for an unlimited amount of time with the acquiescence of the legislature." pic.twitter.com/DH0tX9kLZ8
WILL President @RickEsenberg on today's decision in Polk County Circuit Court: "It is with regret that the Judge held that the Governor of the State of Wisconsin can rule the state by decree for an unlimited amount of time with the acquiescence of the legislature." pic.twitter.com/DH0tX9kLZ8— WILL (@WILawLiberty) October 12, 2020
The lawsuit was filed in Polk County, but judges there recused themselves from the case, sending it to neighboring St. Croix County instead.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned the Evers administration’s Safer at Home order in May following a lawsuit brought by the GOP-controlled state Legislature. A recent order limiting indoor public gatherings to 25% of posted occupancy also appeared to be poised for a similar court challenge. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, in a statement Oct. 7 said GOP lawmakers are confident a judge would find the order invalid. He called on the state health department to submit the emergency rule to a joint legislative committee for review.
There were more than 150,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin and 1,465 deaths as of Sunday, Oct. 11, according to the Department of Health Services.
The governor’s latest emergency declaration remains in effect until Nov. 21.
READ THE JUDGE’S RULING BELOW