‘We don’t have a dictator. We have a Governor’: Milwaukee-based group says statewide mask mandate is beyond Evers’ power

MADISON, Wis. – A Milwaukee-based law advocacy group says Governor Tony Evers executive order to issue a statewide mask policy goes beyond his political authority.

Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a non-profit organization that does litigation research and public advocacy, says while its position isn’t focused on whether or not a mask mandate is a good idea. Rather, their focus is on how that can be accomplished legally, says founder Rick Esenberg.

“In our view the governor has not acted properly in declaring this mask ordinance,” Esenberg said. “He has acted pursuant to his public emergency authority under section 3 23 10. That public emergency authority is time limited. The governor can only declare a public health emergency for sixty days. It can be extended for another sixty days if the legislature agrees. That hasn’t happened. They haven’t agreed.”

Esenberg says Evers’ emergency order enacted on March 9 has since expired.

“Our law does permit the governor to act unilaterally in making law and imposing restrictions on people of Wisconsin once that period is over,” he said. 

In a media conference Thursday, Evers said he welcomed the idea of an emergency legislative session to discuss the mask ordinance. Esenberg says for Evers to enact a statewide mask policy, the state’s legislation would need to be involved.

“We don’t live in a society where a chief executive makes the law that we live under,” he said. “We don’t have a king. We don’t have a dictator.  We have a governor, The governor can certainly propose laws the governor can take steps to administer the law but if new law is to be made it has to be made by the legislature and signed into law.” 

Speaker Robin Vos said in a statement Thursday afternoon that he would not pursue legal action against Evers, however he believed some citizen groups possibly would.

While the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty has sued Evers in the past, Esenberg says it’s too early to tell if they’ll pursue legal action in this instance.

“No matter how we feel about a mask ordinance and no matter how important we think it is, it’s also important that we exercise power in accordance with the legal limits that exist,” he said.