Wisconsin Supreme Court checks governor’s power to act unilaterally during public health emergencies.

‘OPEN IMMEDIATELY!’: Wisconsinites head out to bars after state stay-at-home orders lifted

Molly Beck Doug Schneider Haley BeMiller Natalie Brophy Patrick Marley

After the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the state’s stay-at-home order, which immediately lifted restrictions on businesses and gatherings, some bars opened their doors (and taps) Wednesday night as patrons began trickling out. 

The ruling applied to Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide order to lock down Wisconsin amid the public health emergency of the coronavirus pandemic. Evers intended to keep the order in place until May 26. However, localities are still imposing and extending their own stay-at-home orders, meaning not all businesses in the state may immediately open.

Photos showed small gatherings of Wisconsinites out at bars and restaurants shortly after the ruling came down, while some establishments posted on social media they were staying closed.

What bars in Wisconsin were like Wednesday night

State Street Pub Green Bar May 13, 2020

More than a dozen people had flocked to State Street Pub in Green Bay by 7 p.m. Wednesday. Owner Tera Hansen chose to open as soon as she could, and people started dropping in without any kind of announcement on social media.

The Tavern League of Wisconsin, a trade association of alcoholic beverage retailers in the state, posted on Facebook shortly after the ruling that, while guidelines should be followed, “you can OPEN IMMEDIATELY!”

In Appleton, The Shop Bar & Grille owner Tyler Reilly said he decided to open his restaurant Wednesday night after seeing big box stores full of people earlier in the day, many not wearing masks or social distancing. Reilly said about 10 people showed up Wednesday night after announcing on Facebook that the restaurant would reopen.


Why did the state supreme court rule to strike down the order?

The state’s highest court, which is controlled by conservatives, sided with Republican lawmakers Wednesday in the decision that curbed the Evers administration’s power to act unilaterally during public health emergencies.

GOP lawmakers who brought the lawsuit have said the legal challenge was necessary to get a seat at the table where Evers and state health officials make decisions about how to respond to the outbreak, which has killed 418 people in the state in two months.

Are lockdowns being relaxed in my state? Here’s how America is reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Evers has maintained his administration needs to be nimble and is relying on health experts to guide his decisions. He has said the procedure GOP lawmakers successfully sought will mean the state won’t be able to act quickly.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Patience Roggensack determined Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm should have issued regulations through a process known as rulemaking, which gives lawmakers veto power over agency policies.

Without legislative review, “an unelected official could create law applicable to all people during the course of COVID-19 and subject people to imprisonment when they disobeyed her order,” the majority wrote.

Other justices saw it differently.

“This decision will undoubtedly go down as one of the most blatant examples of judicial activism in this court’s history. And it will be Wisconsinites who pay the price,” Justice Rebecca Dallet wrote in one dissent.

Contributing: Ryan Miller


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