A conservative legal group asked a court on Monday to immediately stop the enforcement of Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate even as Wisconsin now ranks among the top states for new coronavirus cases per capita.
The group, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, asked the Polk County Circuit Court to halt enforcement of both the public health emergency declaration Evers made on July 30 and extended on Sept. 22, as well as the statewide mask mandate. The motion for an immediate injunction halting enforcement was filed in a case that WILL brought before Polk County Circuit Court in August to challenge Evers’ use of emergency powers.
Evers has used the public health emergency as a basis to order the mask mandate.
Evers’ emergency declaration lies at the heart of the case, with WILL contending Wisconsin law doesn’t allow Evers to seize emergency powers more than once to address the same crisis. Evers for a third time declared a COVID-19 emergency on Sept. 22 and extended the mask mandate until Nov. 21.
The extension comes as Wisconsin averaged more than 2,100 new COVID-19 cases per day over the past week.
The original mask mandate ran from Aug. 1 through Monday.
“This motion for an immediate injunction is a recognition that the executive branch in Wisconsin is, thus far, completely undeterred by the constraints of state law and must be reined in,” WILL president and general counsel Rick Esenberg said in a statement.
Evers first declared a public health emergency in March due to COVID-19, and it ran until May 11, with Republicans in the Legislature declining to extend it. In July, Evers declared a second COVID-19 public health emergency and issued his first statewide mask mandate along with it.
The lawsuit was filed by WILL on behalf of two residents of Polk County and one resident of St. Croix County, one of the latest legal battles over the governor’s attempts to minimize the spread of the novel coronavirus. St. Croix County Judge Michael Waterman is set to consider granting the immediate injunction on Oct. 5 after both Polk County judges recused themselves from the case.
The lawsuit alleges that state law forbids a governor from unilaterally extending a public health emergency beyond 60 days or by declaring multiple emergencies in response to the same crisis. The group did not originally file for an immediate injunction to stop enforcement of the governor’s mask mandate.
The Evers administration has countered that the lawsuit represented the latest challenge by Republicans against the governor’s efforts to follow science and public health in order to protect Wisconsinites during the ongoing pandemic.
“While Republicans ignore the alarming case increases we are seeing across our state, Gov. Evers will continue doing everything he can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin,” Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said in a statement.