One day after Wisconsin again broke its own record for new coronavirus cases and deaths, a judge shut down Gov. Tony Evers’ order limiting the amount of people allowed indoors in restaurants and bars, in the latest instance of the state’s courts striking a blow to the Democrat’s coronavirus response.
Judge John Yackel in Sawyer County granted the temporary restraining order early Wednesday in a case being pushed by the Tavern League of Wisconsin, the group announced. The lawsuit against Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm came after Evers last week issued an order restricting indoor occupancy in bars, stores, and restaurants to 25 percent of capacity, according to guidance from the state.
The court decision is another example of the continued tension “between what needs to be done to stop the spread of COVID and sort of the receivers of these policies and how it's impacting their business or their personal lives,” said Ajay K. Sethi, an associate professor in population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin.
“It’s going to handcuff the department of health services again in finding ways to stop the spread particularly during a time when we have some of the worst spread going on in the country,” Sethi said of the order.
The Tavern League filed the suit Tuesday, arguing on its website that the action by Evers’ administration “is invalid and unenforceable because it was not promulgated as an administrative rule as required by the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling just five months ago in Wisconsin Legislature v Palm.”
“Restaurants, taverns, bars, and supper clubs did not cause this pandemic, but they are systematically facing bankruptcy, closure, and economic ruin,” the Tavern League’s website says about the case. “Those of us left cannot survive a reduction of 75 percent of our customers proposed by Secretary-Designee Palm.”
Wisconsin’s coronavirus crisis has deeply alarmed government officials and health experts as its spike in cases has continued. Evers has taken more aggressive action recently, including a field hospital that is set to open this week, with his office saying that “due to the surge in COVID-19 cases in September hospitals are now overwhelmed and fear reaching capacity,” according to a press release.
Evers has faced resistance to his coronavirus approach throughout the pandemic as Republicans in the state have decried his use of emergency powers as executive overreach. That opposition led to the GOP-controlled legislature taking Evers’ administration to court over the state’s “safer at home” order. In a May decision, the state’s highest court found the order “unlawful, invalid, and unenforceable,” in a victory for Republicans that played a major role in hampering Evers’ response to the pandemic in the coming months.
Further action in the Tavern League case is expected next week, with an appearance scheduled for Monday where Evers’ administration will be tasked with needing “to show cause why a temporary injunction should not be entered according to the conditions set forth above and which shall remain in place during the pendency of this action,” the court documents read.
“This is a dangerous decision that leaves our state without a statewide effort to contain this virus,” Evers’ spokesperson Britt Cudaback said in a statement Wednesday. “We will be challenging the decision, and in the meantime, we need Wisconsinites to stay home and help us prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Earlier this week, Evers did get some good court news when it came to the state’s face-mask mandate. The state legislature had signed on to support an attempt by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty to get a temporary injunction against some of the governor’s moves, including the mask requirement to try and stop the spread of the virus.
A state circuit court judge rejected the effort, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Issues between Evers and state GOP leaders have been apparent throughout the health crisis, including in the early days of the pandemic back in April. There was fear about people heading to the polls in person to vote in the state’s presidential primary and a state supreme court race, and Evers tried to delay the election, as other states did. Republican legislative leaders answered by challenging the move, and Evers’ attempt was rejected by the state supreme court.
The emergency order the judge froze on Wednesday had also already been criticized last week by GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who had said in a statement that “the governor and secretary-designee may have good intentions but they’re disregarding the law as set forth in the state Supreme Court ruling, Legislature v. Palm.”
The court decision left Rep. Daniel Riemer, a Democrat serving on the state Assembly’s health committee, disappointed and frustrated as he noted that “it’s maddening in many ways to watch it play out again and again as a pattern where the consequences are so obvious.”
“The case numbers are rising as a result, it would seem, of these decisions to tie the governor’s hands when it comes to trying to fight this thing off,” Riemer said.