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Judge declines injunction of state mask mandate

Published: Oct. 12, 2020 at 9:59 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 12, 2020 at 10:25 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A St. Croix County judge refused to halt Gov. Tony Evers latest emergency order that imposed a mask mandate statewide and, while doing so, criticized the basis of the plaintiffs' case against the measure.

On Monday, Judge Michael Waterman refused their motion to issue a temporary injunction, blocking the order while the case was being decided.

In a statement issued shortly thereafter, Evers hailed the verdict as “a victory in our fight against COVID-19 and our efforts to keep the people of Wisconsin safe and healthy during this unprecedented crisis.”

Noting the state just recorded its 150,000 confirmed coronavirus case just a day earlier, Evers pledged his administration would do everything it could to prevent the virus from spreading, repeating his call for everyone to stay home as much as they can and wear a mask when they are out.

In his decision, Waterman explained injunctions are designed to preserve the status quo and, in this matter, he determined the plaintiffs were, instead, wanting to change it.

“They ask the Court to give them the ultimate relief sought in their lawsuit,” Waterman wrote, pointing to Wisconsin Supreme Court precedent that found an injunction that granted everything one of the sides wanted “would practically dispose of the whole case, it ordinarily will not be granted unless the complainant’s right to relief is clear,” which, he concluded, it is not.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, the conservative legal group representing the three plaintiffs in the case vowed to appeal what it described as “this critical constitutional matter.” Its president, Rick Esenberg, argued, as the group’s attorney did during the injunction hearing, that by allowing a governor to issue successive emergency orders, the executive branch could impose its orders for an unlimited amount of time.

Waterman specifically rejected that line of thinking in his ruling, saying it went against the language written into the statute that pertained to 60-day orders. According to his ruling, the governor has broad powers to determine when a health emergency exists. Waterman rebuffed the idea that repeated declarations of would give governors perpetual emergency powers by pointing to the 60-day time limit.

He explained that restriction forces governors to reassess if an emergency exists and publicly state why the executive branch believes another order is necessary. Wisconsin’s Assistant Attorney General Colin Hector stated the recent spike in COVID-19 cases had been the basis for this new emergency, arguing that the pandemic, in general, is not a single, overarching disaster.

Water also noted that if the other branch of government, the legislature, felt the order went to far, lawmakers could end it themselves.

Waterman raised a similar point last Monday during arguments, telling attorneys the legislature’s power appears to be “without qualification.” He wondered if the judiciary should even rule on the matter or if it was conflict of separation of powers.

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