By TODD RICHMOND and SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin judge on Monday upheld Gov. Tony Evers’ mask mandate in the face of a conservative challenge.
The conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty argued in a lawsuit that Evers had overstepped his authority by issuing various emergency orders to curb the coronavirus pandemic. Evers defended the mask order, saying it was within his power to impose the requirement and that he followed the recommendations of public-health experts.
The Democratic governor first declared a public-health emergency in March and renewed it in July after the Republican-controlled Legislature declined to extend it. The July order mandated the wearing of masks starting in August for anyone aged 5 and up in all enclosed spaces except at home. He issued another order in September that extended the mask mandate until Nov. 21. Violators could be subject to a $200 fine.
The lawsuit argues that Evers can issue only one emergency declaration for any given emergency. Attorney Anthony LoCoco said during a hearing last week t hat the multiple declarations amount to a power grab and that the mask mandate is an “invasion” of personal liberty.
The lawsuit also argued that masks are ineffective since Wisconsin’s infection numbers have continued to rise since Evers’ mandate was imposed.
Assistant Attorney General Colin Hector argued for the state that the three orders were designed to address the growing pandemic.
St. Croix County Circuit Judge R. Michael Waterman wore a mask during that hearing, which was conducted via video conference.
Wisconsin is among the worst COVID-19 hot spots in the country, ranking third nationwide in new cases per capita over the past two weeks. Medical experts have attributed Wisconsin’s spike to colleges and K-12 schools reopening and general fatigue with precautions such as wearing masks and socially distancing.
The rising tide has some hospitals nearing capacity, especially in northeast and central Wisconsin, and the governor’s office has announced the activation of a field hospital at the state fairgrounds to accommodate the increase in patients.
Republican legislators in May succeeded in getting the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court to strike down Evers’ virus-related stay-at-home order. The high court ruled that the Evers administration had overstepped its authority when it extended the order without consulting lawmakers.
Republican legislators in other states have skirmished repeatedly with Democratic governors over their powers during the pandemic. In neighboring Michigan, the conservative-majority state Supreme Court ruled that the law underpinning Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s response to the pandemic was unconstitutional.