In a 4-3 decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court this morning struck down multiple state-wide coronavirus-related emergency orders issued by Governor Evers, including those requiring the wearing of masks or face coverings in public.
While many people have focused on those aspects of the emergency orders mandating masks or face coverings, the Court’s decision did not zoom in on any specific order requirements. The Court also stated that the issue before it was not whether the Court agreed or disagreed with the emergency orders themselves.
Instead, the issue was whether the emergency orders complied with Wisconsin’s emergency relief statute, Wis. Stat. § 323.10. That statute allows the Governor to issue an executive order declaring a public health emergency. A state of emergency may not exceed 60 days, unless extended by a joint resolution of the state legislature. It may also be revoked by the Governor or legislature, again through joint session.
Rejecting the Governor’s argument that each order addressed a different emergency, the Court held that the orders declared the same emergency and so violated the statute. The Court further stated that the emergency orders effectively extended the declaration of the COVID-19 public health emergency beyond the statute’s 60-day limit, without joint legislative consent. The legislature in fact revoked one order declaring COVID-19 a public health emergency on February 4, 2021.
The Court’s decision does not affect local laws or orders responding to the pandemic. For example, the City of Milwaukee currently requires the wearing of masks or face coverings under certain circumstances.
If you have any questions regarding the decision, the COVID-19 pandemic, or any legal issue, contact your FOS attorney.