May 15, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The great reopening experiment

People enjoy a meal in Wisconsin, where the state supreme court overruled the governor on coronavirus lockdowns.
Jonesy's Local Bar in Hudson, Wisc. Photo Jerry Holt/(Minneapolis) Star Tribune via Getty Images

A rolling, living experiment — and preview of coming attractions for the rest of the country — has begun in Wisconsin, after a surprise court ruling made the Badger State the first in the nation where businesses can reopen.

The state of play: Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) warned of “massive confusion” after his stay-at-home order was thrown out Wednesday night by the state's Supreme Court.

  • Some bars filled within hours, picking up their St. Patrick's Day celebrations where they'd left off.
  • Restaurants, hair salons, barbershops, spas and gyms opened around the state, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.
  • At Hair Extraordiniar By Michael in Menomonee Falls, patrons waited in their cars until it was their turn.

But the party was short-lived in the state's biggest areas — including Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay and more — which pledged to continue the state's "safer at home" rules.

  • President Trump called the ruling a win: "The people want to get on with their lives. The place is bustling!"

Between the lines: For several years, Wisconsin has been a testing ground for GOP maximalism on labor, gerrymandering and other fronts — especially under the previous governor, Scott Walker (R).

  • The state's reopening conflicts reflect national divisions that have only deepened with the pandemic.
Patrons at a Wisconsin bar.
The Dairyland Brew Pub in Appleton, Wisc. Photo: William Glasheen/The Post-Crescent via Reuters

The big picture: Lawsuits challenging lockdown measures, in whole or in part, are pending across the country. But they're mostly failing.

  • Wisconsin’s high court is the only one to strike down an entire stay-at-home order.
  • Courts in Kansas, Michigan, Pennsylvania have sided with those states’ governors, allowing their stay-at-home orders to stand.
  • Even lawsuits targeted at narrow, specific parts of states’ orders mostly failed, with some exceptions. Different courts in different jurisdictions have reached different conclusions about restrictions on religious gathering, for example.
  • And judges have rebuffed some restrictions that targeted abortion providers.
  • Overwhelmingly, though, the trend is for courts to uphold governors' orders, even highly restrictive ones like Michigan's and California's.

What's next: Evers announced that his administration is working toward a new administrative rule for managing the crisis, a process he had warned could take weeks and might lead nowhere, AP reports.

  • A notice made clear the new rule will mirror Evers’ earlier recommendations.
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