Wisconsin Supreme Court declines to hear case against county's mask mandate

The Wisconsin Supreme Court in a 4-3 ruling on Friday declined to consider a case by a conservative legal firm over a county’s emergency order requiring indoor masking.

The state’s high court said in its ruling that a motion toward temporary injunction against the emergency order was being dismissed “because the court is not exercising its original jurisdiction.” Additional legal challenges in the future would be left to the lower courts to decide on first, Wisconsin State Journal reported.

The emergency order, which was issued by Public Health Madison & Dane County, required residents aged 2 and older to begin wearing masks indoors given that both the city and county have high transmission rates of COVID-19.

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The emergency order recognized that despite the fact that Dane County has a high vaccination rate, vaccinated people could still spread COVID-19 to other people. The emergency order went into effect on Aug. 19 and runs until Sept. 16.

Earlier this month, the Wisconsin Institute of Law & Liberty had filed a petition challenging the emergency order, arguing that health officers did not have the authority to issue mask mandates affecting counties under state law and that the requirement was illegal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

"This Court should again step in and (block) this order: last time it was schools, this time it is masks, next time it could be vaccine passports and permanent masking," the petition said, according to the Journal Sentinel. "Respondents' power is not unlimited, and the residents of Dane County deserve protection from these unchecked mandates."

Lawyers for Madison, Dane County, and Public Health Madison & Dane County Director Janel Heinrich argued that the mask mandate was a relatively less restrictive use of power by a health officer and that the county does have the power to issue a mandate given the emergence of variants within the pandemic, the Journal Sentinel reported.