GOP-Controlled Legislature Sues over "Safer at Home"

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald filed for original action in the state Supreme Court, alleging the governor overstepped his executive authority.

By Frederica Freyberg

April 21, 2020

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Wisconsin Supreme Court

Entryway to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Legislative Republican leaders Tuesday filed a lawsuit before the Wisconsin Supreme Court seeking a stay of the state’s “Safer at Home” order extension to May 26.

“Purporting to act under color of State law, an unelected, unconfirmed cabinet secretary has laid claims to a suite of czar-like powers – unlimited in scope and indefinite in duration – over the people of Wisconsin,” the filing Wis. Legislature v. Andrea Palm states. Palm is secretary-designee of the state Department of Health Services.

The case takes exception to the fact that the state order not only applies to cities with more COVID-19 cases, but includes rural counties with few or no cases.

“Just as troubling, the Secretary asserts that her go-it-alone shutdown authority has no expiration date – making it greater than even the Governor’s emergency powers,” according to the filing.

The lawsuit comes just five days after Gov. Tony Evers announced the extension of the stay-at-home order, and in a week where protests against the shut-down are scheduled for Friday at the state Capitol.

“Wisconsinites deserve certainty, transparency, and a plan to end the constant stream of executive orders that are eroding both the economy and their liberty even as the state is clearly seeing a decline in COVID-19 infections,” said Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, in a joint statement announcing the filing of an original action in the Supreme Court.

Late in the afternoon, a livid Evers declared the Republican lawsuit a blatant power grab, an attempt at a political coup.

“This has been an extraordinary day unlike any other frankly I have witnessed as governor or even before I was governor,” Evers said. “People’s lives should always come first, not politicians’ powers. Legislative Republicans frankly have said to people of Wisconsin, ‘our political power is more important than your health.’”

The governor said his health secretary-designee, Andrea Palm, is with the best in the country, is a superior leader and has done everything according to the law, having worked hard to save lives.

“I believe the state Supreme Court is in a position to make the right decision, period, regardless of the alleged makeup of this court,” Evers said. “One way or the other, they understand the importance of science, they understand the importance of making sure that the people in Wisconsin are safe.”

“And frankly, they understand that by delaying efforts that people are going to die,” Evers added. “The more we screw around with it, the more people die.”

The Supreme Court ordered respondents in the state DHS, including Palm, to file a response in one week by 4 p.m. on April 28.

The state DHS COVID-19 numbers released Tuesday show 121 new positive cases for a total of 4,620 and 12 additional deaths for a total of 242.

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