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Republicans ask Wisconsin Supreme Court to overturn extension of 'safer at home' order

Republicans ask Wisconsin Supreme Court to overturn extension of 'safer at home' order

Fitzgerald, Vos (copy)

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, left, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester. 

Wisconsin Republican leaders are urging the state Supreme Court to block the an order extending the closure of nonessential businesses by a month. 

The lawsuit, officially filed Tuesday against the state's top health officials, comes after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' administration last week lengthened the state's "safer at home" order from April 24 to May 26.

The move drew the ire of legislative Republicans, prompting them to officially file a lawsuit Tuesday as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald argued the extension "goes beyond the executive branch’s statutory powers."

"The governor has denied the people a voice through this unprecedented administrative overreach," they added in a joint statement. "Unfortunately, that leaves the legislature no choice but to ask the Supreme Court to rein in this obvious abuse of power." 

Evers Tuesday slammed Republicans and lamented the lawsuit leaves the state "fighting about just absolute political power" without "a single mention" of those who have tested positive or died from COVID-19, or health care workers seeking to combat the novel coronavirus. 

"Let’s just get real here, this is about power," he said, adding: "And if they win, they get it and it’s going to take a long time for our state to recover." 

At the time the order was extended, DHS head Andrea Palm said the push would "help us reduce the risk of a second wave of the virus." 

“If we open up too soon, we risk overwhelming our hospitals and requiring more drastic physical distancing measures again," she said last week.  

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The announcement Thursday preceded protests in Brookfield and Madison, as well as others planned across the state, decrying the measure and urging Wisconsin officials to reopen businesses more quickly. 

Opponents have also planned a Friday afternoon Wisconsin Freedom Rally at the Capitol, an event thousands have RSVP'd to on Facebook, while others are signing petitions calling on Evers "to responsibly open Wisconsin for business."  

The latest action Tuesday calls on the Supreme Court, which has a 5-2 conservative majority, to issue an injunction preventing enforcement of the extension, arguing Palm is unable to issue such an order and that doing so means she "has laid claim to a suite of czar-like powers--unlimited in scope and indefinite in duration--over the people of Wisconsin." 

The filing also argues the order was improperly promulgated. But it suggests the court could stay enforcement of the injunction for six days to allow the department time to promulgate a new emergency rule -- subject to legislative review -- extending the directive. 

"Such a stay would fairly accommodate the parties’ mutual interest in preserving the status quo and ensuring no disruption to the State’s efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 while DHS undertakes steps to comply with all applicable statutes," the suit said. 

The Supreme Court ordered DHS to respond to the filing by 4 p.m. April 28. 

Palm, who has been leading the state's response to the COVID-19 crisis, was appointed to serve in the role more than a year ago, but the Wisconsin Senate has yet to confirm her, the final step in making her appointment permanent. 

The order last week led to some Senate Republicans to urge their colleagues to reject her nomination, as they did with former ag secretary Brad Pfaff.

But Evers Tuesday commended her for making "difficult but good decisions" in the face of the current pandemic.  

As of Tuesday afternoon, DHS reported there have been 4,620 positive COVID-19 test results, while 242 individuals have died from the virus. Another 47,841 have tested negative. 

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Briana Reilly covers state government and politics for the Cap Times. She joined the staff in 2019, after working at WisPolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter at @briana_reilly.

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