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Wisconsin Supreme Court Overturns The State's Stay-At-Home Orders


For many of Wisconsin's 5.8 million residents, life may have just changed overnight. Wisconsin's Supreme Court ruled that the state's stay-at-home order is unlawful. The court found that the administration of Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, exceeded its authority when it ordered businesses closed without legislative approval.

Wisconsin Public Radio's Shawn Johnson joins us to talk about this. Hi, Shawn.


MARTIN: Let's start with what life was like in Wisconsin earlier this week. I mean, what kind of restrictions were in place before this court ruling?

JOHNSON: Yeah, we've been under some form of a stay-at-home order back until, you know, March. March 24 is when the first one was issued, and that meant a lot of businesses were closed. You know, restaurants were closed. Bars were closed. Grocery stores and hardware stores were open, but you had widespread closures in the state. People were restricted in their movement, in their travel. And so Republican legislators brought this challenge. They said that the Evers administration, specifically his health services secretary, exceeded her authority when she issued the latest order. And they got conservatives on the Wisconsin Supreme Court to agree. And they struck that order down.

MARTIN: So what's open now and what's not?

JOHNSON: It totally depends on where you live. You know, I'm speaking to you from Madison. That's in Dane County. Dane County issued its own order last night after the statewide order was struck down. Milwaukee issued its own order. You have other places throughout Wisconsin that have kind of stepped in where the state order disappeared. So you've got a patchwork. You know, in more rural areas, there are hardly any restrictions now. In cities, there are. One thing to note, though, is that this order is still in effect for schools. That is, they remain closed even after the Supreme Court's decision in Wisconsin.

MARTIN: Although I did see photos on social media of at least one bar open last night, so people (laughter) - people took advantage of this right away.

JOHNSON: It happened pretty fast, yeah. Bars in Wisconsin are kind of a mainstay of the culture. And in places where they were allowed to, they opened right away.

MARTIN: So there's this split between a governor who's a Democrat, a Republican-controlled state legislature. What do we know about where Wisconsin residents stand on this?

JOHNSON: Yeah. I mean, there's still a strong majority of support for the stay-at-home order. When Marquette University asked about this in late March, 86% favored closing businesses and schools. In a poll by Marquette that was released this week, that number had dropped, but it was still 69%. The drop you saw, though, was from Republican voters. They're now split on whether they support these closures. And it's Republican lawmakers who ultimately moved to strike them down.

MARTIN: OK. So what happens now?

JOHNSON: So what happens now is that we could, in theory, have our governor and our legislature craft a new stay-at-home order. But the governor's order would have to go through a legislative committee controlled by Republicans, giving them veto power. Here's what Governor Evers said after the ruling.


TONY EVERS: They have provided no plan. There's no question among anybody that people are going to get sick. And the (ph) - Republicans own that chaos.

JOHNSON: Republicans issued a statement after the ruling saying they would work with the governor to provide guidance. But in their words, they wanted it to be in case COVID-19 reoccurs in a more aggressive way. So it doesn't sound like they want to do it right now.

MARTIN: Shawn Johnson covers state government for Wisconsin Public Radio. Thanks, Shawn.

JOHNSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shawn Johnson covers the State Capitol for Wisconsin Public Radio. Shawn joined the network in 2004. Prior to that he worked for WUIS-FM, a public radio station in Springfield, Illinois. There, Shawn reported on the Illinois legislature. He also managed the station's western Illinois bureau, where he produced features on issues facing rural residents. He previously worked as an Assistant Producer for WBBM-AM radio in Chicago.