Gerald P. Sawyer's Fonzie statue in Milwaukee. Photo by Joseph Gage, Creative Commons license 2.0

With signs that a fresh wave of infections is starting to roll through the Cheesehead State, the conservative majority on Wisconsin's state Supreme Court voted 4-3 to overturn the emergency order and statewide mask mandate that had been put in place by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. The decision by Justice Brian Hagedorn explicitly avoided any consideration of whether the mask mandate was effective or had saved lives, focusing instead on whether Evers had the authority to extend emergency orders beyond the 60 days specified in Wisconsin law. Hagedorn wrote,

The question in this case is not whether the Governor acted wisely; it is whether he acted lawfully. We conclude he did not.

Effective immediately, there's no longer a state of emergency in Wisconsin, never mind that, as the Associated Press reports, there's every sign that the state is going to have another health crisis on its hands:

Wednesday's decision comes as COVID-19 cases have been rising in the state. The seven-day average has jumped from fewer than 400 cases in mid-March to 501 on Tuesday. State Department of Health Services Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the state is seeing "warning signs" that another surge in infections is about to begin.

But you see, there was a principle at stake here, and that principle is that the gerrymandered-in Republican majority in the state legislature didn't want Evers, a Democrat, to have the power to extend the original state of emergency through subsequent executive orders, so it had to teach him a lesson. And now freedom prevails, except where local governments have their own mask mandates in place. That's the case for the state's two largest urban centers, Milwaukee, and Dane County, where the capitol, Madison, is located. We won't be the least bit surprised if the state Lege tries to pull a Texas and ban municipal and county governments from enacting mask rules.


At issue was whether Wisconsin law allows a governor to issue new executive orders to deal with an ongoing emergency. As Hagedorn noted in his ruling, the statute

specifies that no state of emergency may last longer than 60 days unless it "is extended by joint resolution of the legislature," and that the legislature may cut short a state of emergency by joint resolution.

Evers had argued that the governor should be able to issue new emergency declarations to deal with changes in the threat posed by the pandemic, but Hagedorn wasn't having any of that tyranny, explaining that "we must remember that our constitutional structure does not contemplate unilateral rule by executive decree." Yr Wonkette is unable to ascertain whether Hagedorn literally put on a powdered wig and tricorn hat while drafting that point, but he ultimately ruled that the law "must be read to forbid the governor from proclaiming repeated states of emergency for the same enabling condition absent legislative approval."

The ruling effectively prohibits Evers from taking any new emergency actions on the pandemic, because Wisconsin law says all deadly disease outbreaks can last no longer than 60 days without legislative approval.

In the minority opinion, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote that it was pretty messed up to eliminate the governor's ability to protect the health of Wisconsin residents:

This is no run-of-the-mill case. We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic ... with the stakes so high, the majority not only arrives at erroneous conclusions, but it also obscures the consequence of its decision.

Republicans were jubilant, because order, if not public health, has been restored:

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said Evers' "repeated abuse of emergency powers and pervasive violation of state statute created a state of chaos and had to be stopped."

"Today's ruling vindicates the Legislature as a co-equal branch of government and will expand freedom and opportunity for the people of Wisconsin," he said in a statement.

And what exactly was all that "chaos"? It consisted of Evers interfering with the legislature's cherished right to let the virus spread all over the state. Viruses have rights, you know.

Now, sure, maybe the legislature and Evers could work together to enact some kind of public health statute, but that's not likely since Democrats are pure evil and Republicans officially don't think there's a problem. As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel notes,

Some have rejected widely accepted scientific research concluding face masks help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and many have not worn face masks when meeting with others in the state Capitol.

"This case was never about the nature of the emergency. Good intentions, 'science', and fear are not reasons to disobey the law," Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, tweeted. "The statute does not grant exceptions, no matter the cause."

For his part, Evers pledged to keep following the science, even in the face of Republican scare quotes, and to "get folks vaccinated as quickly as we can," while urging them to continue wearing masks.

Also, the Journal-Sentinel points out that the elimination of the emergency order might lead to a cutoff in emergency federal food aid, which has amounted to an extra $50 million a month during the pandemic. No state of emergency, no emergency food aid, so the Republicans have REALLY owned the libs by possibly cutting off extra help for hungry Wisconsinites, many of whom lost their jobs in the mistaken belief that the pandemic was real.

Oh, and who was the brave plaintiff in this restoration of proper limits on the governor's power? The AP explains the case was brought by

Jere Fabick, a major Republican donor in Wisconsin who has given more than $350,000 to Republican or conservative candidates in Wisconsin between 1994 and the middle of 2020, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

In 2016, Fabick gave $20,000 to conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley. Fabick is a board member and policy advisor for The Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank, and also the president of a multi-state Caterpillar equipment and engine dealer.

Isn't that cool? They say that one man can do little to change the system, but this one very well-connected man proved that with hard working lawyers, grit, and determination, one man can help make a pandemic far worse without even having to be Patient Zero.

[AP / Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel / Decision in Fabick v. Evers / Photo: Joseph Gage, Creative Commons license 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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