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Hours After Trump Tests Positive for COVID-19, Wisconsin GOP Files Brief to Reverse State Mask Mandate

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers

Just hours after President Donald Trump confirmed he had tested positive for the virus caused by the novel coronavirus, Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature filed court documents on Friday seeking to undo Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate.

The legislature filed a non-party brief supporting the plaintiffs in a case seeking to have the court declare Evers’s order unconstitutional and void despite a disturbing surge in pandemic numbers. Wisconsin has consistently shattered daily records for new cases of the virus and over the last two weeks, ranking third in the U.S. in new cases per capita.

The initial lawsuit against the mask mandate was filed by conservative legal advocacy group the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) on behalf of three individual citizens. In the complaint, filed on Aug. 25 in Polk County Circuit Court, WILL argued that Gov. Evers exceeded the authority of his office by extending his emergency declaration beyond 60 days.

“This case is not about whether the State of Wisconsin, as a whole, (as opposed to local municipalities) should take additional measures to thwart COVID-19, or what those measures (statewide or local) should be. It is not even about whether there can ever be a mask mandate,” WILL’s attorneys wrote in the complaint. “This case is about: (1) whether a Governor may extend an emergency past the 60-day statutory time limit without legislative approval, and (2) whether a Governor may sequentially declare consecutive public health emergencies for the same underlying public health crisis.”

That position was reiterated in the brief filed Friday on behalf of the state legislature by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

“Wisconsin’s emergency-powers statute cannot possibly be read to justify a Governor’s power to renew, unilaterally and indefinitely, a declared state of emergency caused by a single pandemic, regardless how long the pandemic lasts or how its severity changes over time,” the lawmakers wrote, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The GOP lawmakers’ choice to join an existing lawsuit was derided by Democrats. Democrats said that Republicans control the legislature and can cancel the governor’s order at any time, but have chosen not to because of the political ramifications.

Britt Cudaback, spokeswoman for Evers, told the Journal Sentinel that Republicans were only making matters worse for themselves and the citizens of Wisconsin.

“It’s unconscionable that Republicans who haven’t passed a bill in 170 days somehow mustered the will to support yet another lawsuit aimed at preventing the governor from keeping people safe,” she said. “Republicans in Wisconsin have refused to take COVID-19 seriously from the beginning and continue to be unfazed by this crisis even after more than 50 reported COVID-19 deaths in three days.”

A motion hearing on the case is scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday in Polk County Circuit Court.

[image via PBS screengrab]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.