Brief

State’s highest court rejects attempt to block Dane County mask order

By: - August 30, 2021 1:37 pm
East gallery in the Wisconsin State Capitol at Supreme Court entrance from across the rotunda

Wisconsin Capitol East Gallery, Supreme Court (Keith Ewing | Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)

A lawsuit challenging Dane County’s new COVID-19 mask mandate won’t go straight to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

On Friday, the high court denied a motion by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty to bypass lower courts in hearing the lawsuit, filed on behalf of a Sun Prairie resident. The order also denied a temporary injunction to block the mask mandate.

The unsigned denial order brought together Justice Brian Hagedorn, a conservative swing vote on the court, along with the court’s three liberals, Justices Ann Walsh Bradley, Rebecca Dallet and Jill Karofsky. As is standard procedure, it contained no statement arguing for its conclusion.

The mask order from Janel Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison & Dane County, took effect Thursday, Aug. 19 and remains in effect for 28 days. The order was issued in response to increasing cases of COVID-19 in the county. Infections from the coronavirus have been increasing, both due to spread of the delta variant of the virus, which is much more easily transmitted, and due to a large, although shrinking, population of unvaccinated people in the county as well as in Wisconsin as a whole.

The order cites state public health law, which requires local public health officers to “promptly take all measures necessary to prevent, suppress and control communicable diseases.” The purpose of the mask requirement was to help control the spread of the virus so that infections stopped rising, public health officials said.

Three members of the court’s conservative wing dissented: Chief Justice Annette Ziegler along with Justices Patience Roggensack and Rebecca Bradley.

“The petition before the court addresses pervasive, fundamental, statutory, and constitutional concerns that should be resolved by our court,” Zeigler wrote in her dissent. “I would not dodge that responsibility.”

Meanwhile, the Cap Times has reported that a Dane County Board member has launched an effort to roll back the mask mandate until it could be debated by the public and by the board.

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.

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