A court ruling tossing Wisconsin's stay-at-home order threw communities into chaos Thursday as some bars opened immediately and were packed with customers while other local leaders moved quickly to keep strict restrictions in place amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The conservative majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court late Wednesday afternoon ruled that the “safer at home” order from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers was invalid and threw it out effective immediately. The order forces Evers to work with the GOP-controlled Legislature on a new plan, a process that could take weeks.
Evers and Republican leaders scheduled a Thursday morning meeting to discuss next steps.
The court ruling drew praise Thursday from President Donald Trump, who referenced a victory earlier in the week in the state by a Republican congressional candidate in a special election.
“The Great State of Wisconsin, home to Tom Tiffany’s big Congressional Victory on Tuesday, was just given another win,” Trump tweeted. “Its Democrat Governor was forced by the courts to let the State Open. The people want to get on with their lives. The place is bustling!”
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The Tavern League of Wisconsin swiftly posted the news on its website, telling members, “You can OPEN IMMEDIATELY!”
Some bars did just that. Nick’s Bar in Platteville, in far southwest Wisconsin, posted a 30-second video late Wednesday that showed the bar teeming with people drinking, talking and bobbing their heads to music. Bars in Appleton and Kaukauna in northeast Wisconsin also opened and were packed with people.
The party may be short-lived in Appleton. City officials signed an order Wednesday that took effect at 8 a.m. Thursday continuing the state's “safer at home” order. Other communities were taking similar steps, including Racine, Kenosha County and Brown County, home to Green Bay.
In Dane County, home to the capital of Madison, officials quickly imposed a mandate incorporating most of the statewide order until May 26. City health officials in Milwaukee said a stay-at-home order they enacted in late March remains in effect and does not have an end date.
As the debate on how to manage the coronavirus has grown more partisan, Republicans in other states have made similar moves. In Kansas on Wednesday, top GOP lawmakers resisted Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s request to extend a disaster declaration to mid-June, with Senate President Susan Wagle declaring, “We won’t allow one dictator to determine everything.”
Democratic governors in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Louisiana have faced a mix of legislation and lawsuits aiming to curtail their power. A couple hundred people angry over Michigan’s coronavirus stay-at-home order were protesting in the rain outside the state Capitol on Thursday. It was led by Michigan United for Liberty, a conservative activist group that has sued Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and organized or participated in several protests since early April.
Evers had been slowly easing restrictions on closed businesses in Wisconsin as the percentage of new cases dropped and other metrics that were a part of his reopening plan were met. Earlier this week, Evers allowed all nonessential retail businesses to allow up to five customers in a store at one time. However, bars and restaurants had been limited to offering only carry-out or delivery services.
As of Wednesday, there were nearly 10,100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin and 421 deaths, according to the state Department of Health Services.