St. Croix County Judge Michael Waterman ruled against the Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty’s (WILL) request for an injunction, finding the governor holds the power to issue multiple health emergency orders over the same pandemic.
The ruling hands a temporary win to Evers — who has faced multiple lawsuits from Republican legislators in recent weeks.
“Today’s ruling is a victory in our fight against COVID-19 and our efforts to keep the people of Wisconsin safe and healthy during this unprecedented crisis,” Gov. Evers said in a release. “As the number of COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin reached 150,000 yesterday, we will continue doing everything we can to prevent the spread of this virus.”
As the pandemic worsens in the state, Evers declared three separate emergency declarations — one in March, one in July and one in September. However, the state statute Evers used requires the Legislature to convene in order to extend a state of emergency longer than 60 days.
Republican lawmakers contended Evers needed to use a process known as "rulemaking" to apply additional public safety protocols, rather than continue to order emergency declarations.
But the judge agreed with the governor, determining he can continually issue public health emergencies despite it being the same pandemic, based on a Wisconsin state statute that defines a public health emergency as “the occurrence or imminent threat of an illness or health condition” among other criteria.
“Nothing in the statute prohibits the governor from declaring successive states of emergency,” Waterman wrote in his decision. “Instead, the statute allows a declaration ‘if the governor determines that a public health emergency exists.’”
While Evers can issue an emergency declaration, state legislators also possess the ability to revoke it, which has yet to happen.
"The legislature can end the state of emergency at anytime, but so far, it has declined to do so,” Waterman wrote. “As the statewide representative body of the citizens of Wisconsin, the legislature’s inaction is relevant and it weighs against judicial intervention, especially when the requested intervention will have statewide impact."
WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg told reporters after Waterman made his decision that the conservative legal firm will appeal the ruling.
This article will be updated as more information comes in.