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Editorial: Conservative justices bear responsibility for Wisconsin's COVID-19 crisis

Editorial: Conservative justices bear responsibility for Wisconsin's COVID-19 crisis

Supreme Court (copy)

The Wisconsin Supreme Court chambers. 

The Winnebago County Public Health Department issued an ominous statement last Friday to people living in northeastern and east-central Wisconsin. 

“Oshkosh-Neenah is now listed by the NY Times as the #1 worst outbreak area in the nation,” the department reported. “Appleton and Green Bay are in the top 5. We have uncontrolled spread that is threatening all aspects of community life. Reliance on voluntary compliance to slow the spread of disease has, to date, failed.”

The Appleton Post-Crescent reported on “the 'tidal wave' of COVID-19 patients pouring into Fox Valley hospitals.” And with each passing day, the crisis spread. On Sunday, hospitalizations of Wisconsinites for COVID-19 hit a record level. And an official with the Wisconsin Hospital Association warned that that if the surge does not slow down, the state could be “at the crisis stage” in a matter of weeks.

Attention from across the country and around the world focused on Wisconsin, with experts asking why a state that has traditionally been at the forefront of public health initiatives has so badly mangled the response to a pandemic.

The answer is not hard to find.

In May, the conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned Wisconsin’s "Safer at Home" emergency order for fighting the spread of COVID-19. With their 4-3 ruling, the conservative justices created a fiasco, as everyone with an ounce of common sense had predicted would be the case. On the night that the ruling came down, the whole country tuned in as local officials issued conflicting orders, taverns opened in some areas and remained shuttered in others and everyone tried to figure out what was going on.

"Four members of the court who made a decision that wasn't based on statutes, precedents or the facts, unfortunately … have thrown our state into chaos," Gov. Tony Evers said after the court issued its decision. "We're going to have more cases. We're going to have more deaths. It's a sad occasion for the state. I can't tell you how disappointed I am."

From the start of the fight against COVID-19, the governor and public health officials had worked to establish statewide standards to protect against the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, they were thwarted at every turn by legislative Republicans, led by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

Vos and Fitzgerald are reckless partisans who have proven to be more than willing to play politics with the health and safety of Wisconsinites and no one expected any better from them.

But the Supreme Court is supposed to be a nonpartisan and deliberative body.

When the court took up an absurd challenge to the “Safer at Home” order, however, four conservative justices rejected science and the public interest in order to serve as judicial handmaidens for the political machinations of Vos and Fitzgerald.

Chief Justice Patience Roggensack and Justices Rebecca Bradley, Annette Ziegler and Daniel Kelly were fully aware of the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic. They met virtually, in order to protect their own health. But they chose not to give the governor and experts in public health the flexibility they needed to protect Wisconsinites.

Kelly has since been removed from the court by the voters of the state. But Justices Roggensack, Ziegler and Rebecca Bradley remain, and they continue to threaten the health and safety of Wisconsinites with their anti-scientific judicial activism.

These charlatans will never take responsibility for the harm they have done. But Wisconsinites should never forget.

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