The Republican-majority Wisconsin legislature sued the state’s top health officials in state Supreme Court Tuesday for extending the COVID-prompted stay-at-home order.
The legal effort is being spearheaded by Speaker Robin Vos (R) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R).
Training particular fire on Andrea Palm, Wisconsin’s secretary-designee of the Department of Health Services, the Republicans argue that she was acting by “administrative fiat” when she extended the order to May 26.
The legislature is seeking a temporary injunction to halt Palm’s extension, ordered on April 16 and set to go into effect on April 24.
“Purporting to act under color of State law, an unelected, unconfirmed cabinet secretary has laid claim to a suite of czar-like powers — unlimited in scope and indefinite in duration — over the people of Wisconsin,” said the complaint.
They accuse her, along with Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk and Assistant Deputy Secretary Nicole Safar of “agency overreach,” elbowing the legislature out of the process and claiming emergency powers even greater than the governor’s.
They also take issue with the scope of the stay-at-home order, arguing that the Department of Health Services does not have the power to shut down non-essential businesses and travel. They further call the health officials’ categorization of which businesses are or are not essential “arbitrary,” and highlight the economic suffering that has come along with the shutdown.
In her emergency order, Palm claimed authority from the Wisconsin statute that governs the the health department’s authority during communicable disease crises. One line that she cited says that “The department may authorize and implement all emergency measures necessary to control communicable diseases.”
The Department of Health Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Vos and Fitzgerald in a statement framed their suit as an attack on Gov. Tony Evers (D), with whom they’ve done battle over many facets of life during the pandemic in recent weeks.
“The governor has denied the people a voice through this unprecedented administrative overreach. Unfortunately, that leaves the legislature no choice but to ask the Supreme Court to rein in this obvious abuse of power,” they said. “Wisconsinites deserve certainty, transparency, and a plan to end the constant stream of executive orders that are eroding both the economy and their liberty even as the state is clearly seeing a decline in COVID infections.”
As of Tuesday, the state had 4,620 positive cases and 242 deaths, per the Department of Health Services.
Vos in particular was a loud voice in the fight over whether or not to move the state’s April 7 election, becoming something of a symbol when he gave a televised interview telling Wisconsinites that it was safe to vote in-person, while clad head-to-toe in protective equipment.
Since then, per the health department, 19 people who say they worked or voted in the election have tested positive with coronavirus, though the department added that they cannot be sure where the people contracted the virus.
Read the Republicans’ filing here: