State lawmakers, officials offer reaction to blocking of 'Safer at Home'

MILWAUKEE -- The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Gov. Tony Evers' administration overstepped its authority when it extended the "Safer at Home" order to May 26. The court's 4-3 ruling ended the order's extension on May 13.

Wisconsin Republicans, worried about the economic fallout from the order's extension had asked the supreme court to block the order, arguing that Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm exceeded her authority.

The Evers administration argued that state law gave Palm and the executive branch broad authority to quickly enact emergency measures to control diseases.

According to the latest Marquette University Law School poll, a majority of Wisconsin voters supported "Safer at Home."

Ben Wickler, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin said the supreme court ruling puts politics before science:

"The Patrician decision by our supreme court to side with Patrician Republicans in our state legislature and try to override science is frankly a failure of law. It's also an economic failure and it's a catastrophe for our state

"The moment we stopped listening to what doctors and researchers tell us about this coronavirus is the moment when we become more at risk."

But Assembly Republican Joe Sanfelippo, speaking before the court's ruling, said the governor's one-size-fits-all plan was not logical. He believes science falls in favor of the Republicans' position:

"We now have 60 days worth of data that tells us exactly who the vulnerable populations are and where the high risk areas are, and all of our decisions should be made based on the data that we have collected."

State lawmakers and other officials are offering their reaction to the Wisconsin Supreme Court's blocking of Gov. Tony Evers' Safer at Home order. They are listed below.

Governor Tony Evers

“Up until now, Wisconsin was in a pretty good place in our battle against COVID-19. We had reached almost all our gating criteria. We had opened up 14,000 small businesses across the state, putting 90,000 folks back to work, and that was because of the good work of Wisconsinites across our state who banded together, stayed home, and stayed safe," said Gov. Evers. "Despite that good work, Republican legislators have convinced 4 justices to throw our state into chaos.

“We cannot let today's ruling undo all the work we have done and all the sacrifices Wisconsinites have made over these past few months. We need everyone to continue doing their part to keep our families, our neighbors, and our communities safe by continuing to stay safer at home, practice social distancing, and limit travel, because folks, deadly viruses don't wait around for politicians and bureaucrats to settle their differences or promulgate rules.

“This virus has killed more than 400 of our family members, friends, and neighbors and thousands more across our state are sick. I am disappointed in the decision today, but our top priority has been and will remain doing what we can and what we have to do to protect the health and safety of the people of our state. After months of unproductive posturing, I hope the folks in the Legislature are ready to do the same.”

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) & Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester)

“When we met with Governor Evers a week ago, we asked him to begin negotiating with us on a plan for reopening. He politely declined and said we should wait for the court decision. Now that the decision has been rendered, we are confident Wisconsin citizens are up to the task of fighting the virus as we enter a new phase.

“The recent Marquette Law School Poll found that 77 percent said they would be comfortable visiting a friend or family member’s home. This ruling allows people to once again gather with their loved ones or visit their places of worship without the fear of violating a state order.

“Republicans believe business owners can safely reopen using the guidelines provided by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. We urge our fellow small business owners to utilize the suggestions as a safe and effective way to open up our state.

“Wisconsin now joins multiple states that don't have extensive ‘stay at home orders’ but can continue to follow good practices of social distancing, hand washing, hand sanitizer usage and telecommuting. This order does not promote people to act in a way that they believe endangers their health.

“We would urge the Evers administration to work with us to begin promulgating rules that would provide clear guidance in case COVID-19 reoccurs in a more aggressive way."

Stephanie Bloomingdale, president of Wisconsin AFL-CIO

“This cynical lawsuit brought by Wisconsin legislative Republican leadership was never about policy responses to a pandemic. It was all about taking away authority from our duly elected Governor Evers. What a shame, again, for our great state to have politicians playing partisan games at the expense of regular people.

“The reopening of Wisconsin’s economy must be grounded and centered on protecting worker health and safety. If workers aren’t safe, the public isn’t safe. Right now, far too many essential workers are working without adequate personal protective equipment; their workplaces are not sufficiently cleaned and sanitized; and recommended social distancing is not universally practiced. We’ve seen the result—many workers have contracted the virus while at work and a growing number have died. Workers are not expendable. We cannot open our economy until we have a constant and adequate supply of PPE to protect the lives of every single essential worker and all of us in the community. We need to immediately implement robust, clear, and enforceable infectious disease standards to contain the spread of the virus.

“We urge the Wisconsin legislature to work together in a truly bipartisan fashion with Governor Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, and to listen to the voices of Wisconsin’s frontline essential workers to craft a measured, responsible, and safe plan that focuses on worker safety. We must keep frontline workers safe and secure with PPE and increases in testing and tracing. Every essential worker, whether on the front lines, working with the public, or simply working closely with coworkers, must have personal protective equipment, thoroughly cleaned and sanitized workplaces, and appropriate social distance from one another to save their own lives and the lives of all Americans.”

Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave

“As we gather information about the state Supreme Court ruling, we are committed to helping lead efforts with our local and regional partners to ensure Racine County reopens in a thoughtful, efficient and safe manner. We are encouraged that businesses can begin to reopen but we must work collaboratively to protect public health and establish consumer confidence. We urge businesses and residents to continue practicing social distancing and taking precautions to protect themselves and others.”

Jessica Post, president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC)

“Yet again, Wisconsin Republicans are risking lives in their state for a blatant political power grab. Governor Evers’ stay-at-home order has the widespread support of voters and public health officials. Instead of working with the administration to safely lift public health measures at the right time, the GOP has opted instead to rush to end social distancing at the behest of right-wing fringe groups. Their callous and irresponsible lawsuit will cost lives in Wisconsin, force people to work in unsafe conditions, and harm the state’s ability to combat the virus, meaning longer-term damage to the economy and Wisconsin families.”

Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine)

“Today’s decision is a victory for all who believe that the power to dictate how people live and to punish them with jail time does not belong with a single, unelected bureaucrat, no matter how good their intentions. And that is what this case was about.

“I’ve often said ‘You can’t legislate common sense.’ But that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t use common sense. If you’re sick, or have a compromised immune system, stay home and wear a mask if you go out. If a business wants to require customers to wear masks to keep others safe or limit their own capacity, that’s their right. And it’s the right of the customer to go elsewhere if they feel it’s inappropriate.
The WEDC has issued guidelines for reopened businesses, and I encourage people to review them.

“Hysteria, name calling and bullying, which seems inevitable these days on any issue, won’t get Wisconsin back to normal. Politeness, using your head, and time hopefully will do so.”

Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills)

“The Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed that an un-elected bureaucrat does not have the authority to create laws that unilaterally shut down our state or impose criminal penalties. This ruling is a victory for the people of Wisconsin. We do not lose our rights as Americans or Wisconsinites in the middle of a pandemic.

"The ruling does not mean people and businesses in the state should abandon smart and safe practices. I encourage people to continue to follow social distancing guidelines, and people with underlying health concerns to take extra precautions. People need to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.

"Businesses need to put practices in place to protect themselves, their employees, and their customers. I encourage all businesses to take a look at the reopening guidelines put together by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

"According to a recent study by the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy at the University of Wisconsin, our state is losing $1.5 billion in economic activity every week due to the pandemic shutdown. I had many constituents reach out to tell me firsthand the impact this shutdown had on their family. We know this shutdown took a toll on many families throughout our state. With the state reopening, workers and smalls businesses now have a chance to succeed.

"Moving forward, my goal is to minimize the impact of the shutdown on our struggling families, businesses, and taxpayers. I have faith in the great people of Wisconsin. Together we will rebuild our economy."

Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield)

“By siding with the legislature, the courts have ruled that Governor Evers and his administration have overstepped the bounds of his authority. Unfortunately, ignoring the law has become a consistent theme of this administration, and I am glad to see the Supreme Court has once again recognized this overreach.

"Effective immediately, Wisconsin is back open. It is now up to each individual person to decide how restrictive they feel they need to be, instead of the government mandating it. The legislature will now begin to work through how to properly handle these situations should they arise in the future.”

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

“The City of Milwaukee Health Department issued a public health order on March 25, 2020 to protect public health and reduce the spread of Covid-19. That order remains in effect, including all provisions on public gatherings, restaurants, and bar operations.”

Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC)

"The court’s order gives clarity to the process that must be followed to implement statewide emergency measures. We hope that clarity will help the administration and the legislature work together to develop clear, manageable standards for a smart and safe restart of our economy. We encourage local health commissioners to work in concert to ensure consistency in local health orders.

"However, government policies are only one part of a process that must prioritize earning the trust of our employees and customers to be truly effective.

"By taking the COVID-19 threat seriously from the outset, our state and region are now well-positioned to begin the process of curing our economic ills. But this is no time to let our guard down. The way forward from here is a responsible return – not to normal, but to a 'new normal' that balances increased economic activity with safety measures to protect employees and customers."

U.S. Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee)

"While Governor Evers has continued to use science and data to guide his decisions, including in the decision to extend his "Safer at Home Order '' and in his attempt to delay the April primary, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has politicized the pandemic every step of the way.

"First, their court forced Wisconsin residents to risk their health, their safety and their lives to exercise their right to vote. Unsurprisingly but still tragically, we are still seeing the impact of this decision now. There are at least 52 positive COVID-19 cases linked to the in-person primary.

"Now, justices in the state Supreme Court are deliberately ignoring the fact that there are more than 10,000 positive COVID-19 cases in the state and more than 400 Wisconsinites have died. Wisconsin still lacks COVID-19 testing supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other resources because of the Trump administration's incompetence and delayed response to the current crisis.

"Wisconsinites deserve a state Supreme Court that will honor their oath, not ones bent on partisan obstruction at the expense of the health, safety and wellbeing of us all.

"Despite the court's dangerous and careless decision, I will still adhere to Governor Evers' order which follows the guidance of public health officials.

"I still encourage individuals to continue staying home as much as possible, wear a facial covering when outside, and practice physical distancing from others."

Lake Geneva Police Chief Michael Rasmussen

"We have read multiple reports that the “safer at home” order was effectively struck down in a 4-3 decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

"At this time, information is still forthcoming. Initial reporting indicates it is null and void effective immediately.

"However, the City of Lake Geneva Police Department at this time, will not offer any advice to businesses on how to proceed. As always, we ask that common sense be your guide and take precautions as COVID 19 still exists regardless of the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision.

"In addition, we are requesting any business owner to direct questions you may have to your own legal counsel as our call volume regarding this is interfering with ability to handle calls for emergency service.

"As information is received we will post it on our social media accounts in an effort to be completely transparent and assist businesses. Thank you for your cooperation and stay safe!"

Racine Mayor Cory Mason

“Today the Wisconsin Supreme Court and their Republican allies in the legislature have put politics before the health and lives of Wisconsin residents. This decision seems rooted more in partisan politics than findings of law. It certainly ignores science and what thousands of medical professionals have been saying about the necessary steps we all need to take to combat the spread of coronavirus, flatten the curve, and save the lives of our residents. This reckless decision will almost certainly mean that the pandemic lasts longer and the health consequences will be even more severe, particularly in places like Racine which is seeing a spike in cases and savage disparities among communities of color. I urge City residents to continue to take the necessary steps to protect yourself, your families, and the community.”

Tavern League of Wisconsin

"In a 4-3 ruling the State Supreme Court found the Emergency Orders issued by Secretary Palm as unlawful, invalid and unenforceable. The result of this decision is business can open immediately. Please follow the WEDC guidlines you can find on the TLW website. We will get you a more detailed summary of the decusion, however, according to the open you (taverns) can OPEN IMMEDIATELY!"

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) President & CEO Kurt Bauer

“We commend the state Supreme Court for upholding the rule of law and understanding that coequal branches of government must work together, especially in times of crisis. Today’s decision is a win for the state’s economy, countless businesses and hundreds of thousands of unemployed Wisconsinites who are ready to get back to work. WMC looks forward to working collaboratively with the legislature and Gov. Evers to ensure the state begins its economic recovery in a safe and sustainable way so we can protect both lives and livelihoods.”

Chris Ott, executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin

“Public health experts have been clear that prematurely lifting social distancing measures will have serious and deadly consequences, especially for vulnerable communities. Today the Wisconsin Supreme Court chose to ignore those warnings,  jeopardizing the health of all Wisconsinites and further endangering people of color and members of other vulnerable communities who already faced the greatest risk from this virus.

"COVID-19 has laid bare the pervasive racial injustice that permeates every aspect of our society, deepening existing racial disparities and infecting communities of color at terribly disproportionate rates. Given this reality, it was incredibly disheartening to hear remarks made in the courtroom that demeaned and discounted the experiences of those most affected by the pandemic. The assertion that the scores of outbreaks occurring in meatpacking facilities were somehow acceptable because they don’t impact ‘regular folks,’ or the absurd equating of the safer-at-home order with Japanese-American internment, were painful to hear.

"Emergency orders can be necessary during crises like a pandemic, as long as they are grounded in science and consistent with the need to protect the health, safety, and civil liberties of us all.  Specifically, Wisconsin’s safer-at-home order has been instrumental in allowing Wisconsinites to stay home from work and protect themselves from infection. While some will still have the option to work from home and do what’s necessary to stay safe, a significant portion of people across the state, particularly people of color and those with low incomes, have now had that protection removed, even as COVID-19 continues to spread.

"Despite today’s ruling, we urge employers not to force people back to work before it is safe to do so or before childcare is available. We also encourage state leaders in the legislative and executive branches to make a serious effort to work together and continue to follow the advice of medical experts and make decisions that prioritize the health of Wisconsin residents and protect those who are most in danger."

Senator Duey Stroebel (R-Cedarburg)

“By ruling in favor of the State Legislature the Supreme Court has made clear that Governor Evers’s Secretary-designee has unlawfully exceeded her authority.  With this decision in hand it is time to immediately reopen our state.

“Regardless of state regulations, I have watched my neighbors and constituents exercise reasonable care and caution as they have gone about their lives.  I believe we can fully reopen our state by relying upon the judgement and discretion of our citizens to navigate the challenges of COVID-19 while resuming our day-to-day lives.  If it is necessary to set state-wide policies through the administrative rule process, I look forward to being a voice for targeted policies to protect our vulnerable population rather than the broad policies advanced by Governor Evers that have had disastrous consequences for so many Wisconsinites.”

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul 

“Wisconsinites’ actions have saved many lives, and we’ve made meaningful progress in the fight against the coronavirus. At the legislature’s urging, however, the plan that’s been working has largely been struck down.

“For decades, Wisconsin law has given the State’s chief health official the authority to ‘close schools and forbid public gatherings in schools, churches, and other places to control outbreaks and epidemics’; to ‘issue orders … for the control and suppression of communicable diseases’; and to ‘authorize and implement all emergency measures necessary to control communicable diseases.’ Wis. Stat. § 252.02(3), (4), (6). These broad grants of authority show that prior generations of lawmakers recognized that addressing a public health crisis like the one we face now can require urgent and extraordinary actions. But today’s decision means that this authority is subject to a legislative committee’s veto and that there will be a delay of more than 10 days before decisions made pursuant to this authority can go into effect.

“Over a week ago, I called on the legislature to act immediately. Unfortunately, it failed to do so, and Republicans in the legislature still have offered no plan to address the coronavirus. They can’t keep waiting to do so. In the middle of the fight against this virus, we need reasonable rules in place that protect Wisconsinites’ health. In the meantime, I ask all Wisconsinites to continue helping to fight the coronavirus by socially distancing and following other recommendations from public health experts.”

Senator Dan Feyen (R-Fond du Lac)

“Even during times of crisis, we must follow the law. We all want to protect the health and safety of Wisconsinites, but we must continue to respect the rule of law and our constituent’s constitutional rights.

“I am looking forward to quickly implementing the bipartisan plan for reopening our state and getting Wisconsin safely back to work. In the meantime, nothing beats good old fashioned common sense and personal responsibility. If you don’t feel safe or are sick, stay home. Cover your coughs and sneezes, wash your hands, and continue to socially distance. Testing is available, so if you have symptoms, contact your local health department and get tested.”

Senate Democratic Leader Janet Bewley (D-Mason)

“In times of confusion and fear, the people of Wisconsin need clear and consistent leadership. The court's decision today only adds to that uncertainty. The Executive Branch is the appropriate place for authority during a pandemic, when decisions about health and the economic well-being of the state are paramount. At a time when leadership is needed most, Wisconsin families are left with political games. Please don’t be coaxed into a false sense of security by the Supreme Court’s misguided action. Wisconsinites are resilient and when we work together to stay safer-at-home we can slow the spread and protect our most vulnerable loved ones.”

Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) 

“The immediate result of the court’s ruling will be to slow down Wisconsin’s ability to respond at a time when every moment counts. We’ve seen how the Trump administration’s slow action at the start of this crisis has caused the United States to lead the world in the number of COVID-19 cases. Wisconsin got ahead of the curve because we followed the science and moved quickly. That strategic advantage in this pandemic has now been plucked away. This is a sad day for our state, and the repercussions of this misguided decision will be felt by thousands of our neighbors in the months to come, some of whom will not live to share their story.

“As a member of the legislature, I reject the GOP leadership’s claim to represent our entire body.

“Unfortunately, the Republican justices had made up their minds before having heard the legal arguments in this case. To the chimes of national ridicule, Justice Bradley compared Safer at Home to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and the Chief Justice indicated that meat-packing workers, many of whom are immigrants, were not the ‘regular folks of Brown County.’

“I am stunned by the blatant partisanship and reckless disregard for human life displayed today by some politicians on our Wisconsin Supreme Court in their decision to invalidate Governor Evers’ ‘Safer at Home’ order. Our neighbors’ lives should matter more than being seen as political pawns in an ideological game of chess.”

Robert Kraig, Citizen Action of Wisconsin

"The reckless ruling threatens Wisconsin’s pandemic response by removing our most effective containment tool in the middle of the crisis and further dividing the state in a way that is likely to reduce compliance with social distance guidelines,. This is a nakedly political decision by a majority that has no regard for the plain wording of the law or the unprecedented public health threat we are facing. This decision shows a reckless disregard for the law. As in the lame duck ruling last year, no fair minded person thinks this court majority would have taken this action if the social distancing order came from a Republican governor.“