Attorneys at the Thomas More Society are chalking up another victory in the battle to protect First Amendment rights against government overreach. The Wisconsin Supreme Court sided with Pro-Life Wisconsin, represented by the Thomas More Society, in an April 14, 2021, ruling that the state does not have the authority to limit capacity on businesses without the approval of Wisconsin’s lawmakers.
Pro-Life Wisconsin was among the organizations and businesses whose rights were violated as Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers’ administration evaded the legislative process to set arbitrary and discriminatory rules under cover of COVID-19 prevention. The majority decision in Tavern League of Wisconsin v. Andrea Palm and Wisconsin Department of Health Services upheld a previous ruling from the Court of Appeals that favored Pro-Life Wisconsin and the other organizations and businesses in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed in response to an emergency order issued in October 2020 that limited the number of people at indoor public gatherings to 25 percent capacity. The order limited businesses without capacity limits to 10 people. The order was issued by former Wisconsin Department of Health Secretary-designee Andrea Palm. An injunction against the emergency order that was issued after the lawsuit by The Tavern League, which was joined by Pro-Life Wisconsin and others, said that Palm illegally bypassed the state’s proper rulemaking procedures.
Andrew Bath, Thomas More Society Executive Vice President and General Counsel, responded to the decision, “The Wisconsin Supreme Court has affirmed what we have said all along, that, under our constitutional system of separation of powers, no branch of government is a rule unto itself. The rights of Pro-Life Wisconsin and the other plaintiffs were violated when the Evers Administration engaged in dictatorial rule rather than follow the law. Those rights have been vindicated by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which declared the administration’s illegal order to be neither ‘valid’ nor ‘enforceable.’ We hail the court’s decision because the very notion of citizen self-government was at stake in this case.”
Bath added, “The outrageous fact that the Secretary-designee included a punishment of civil forfeiture of assets for noncompliance with her excessive regulations shows that the move was more about absolute power than disease prevention. As we have seen, the United States Supreme Court continues to protect rights guaranteed by the federal Constitution – even in a pandemic. We are pleased that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has protected rights guaranteed by the state constitution and halted the administration’s attempt to do an end run around the people’s representatives – in violation of Wisconsin law.”
Dan Miller, State Director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, stated, “We thank the Wisconsin Supreme Court for its prudent, decisive, and common sense reading of the law as it was written. This rebuke of Governor Tony Evers’ abuse of power is a win for the people of Wisconsin. Those who love liberty are forever indebted to the Thomas More Society for its tireless work on this case. This case was not just about how the executive branch overreached its power in the name of public health, but how a handful of citizens and constitutional law experts stood up to tyranny and won.”
In March 2021, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the governor’s statewide mask mandate, ruling that two of the governor’s executive orders regarding masks were “unlawful” under Wisconsin state statutes.
Read the Supreme Court of Wisconsin order issued in Tavern League of Wisconsin v. Andrea Palm and Wisconsin Department of Health Services on April 14, 2021, on bypass from the Court of Appeals, here.