Unions Join Legal Battle Over Evers’ Order
GOP suit asking Wisconsin Supreme Court to quash stay-at-home order threatens workers' lives, union lawyer argues.
A group of unions, some of which represent workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 virus, have joined the fight against a lawsuit ultimately aimed at ending Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer-At-Home order.
The Wisconsin Legislature, controlled in both chambers by the Republican Party, has filed a lawsuit against the top three officials in the state Department of Health Services and opposing the extension of the stay-at-home order.
Tuesday morning, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, Madison Teachers Inc., the Amalgamated Transit Union and SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin jointly filed a motion to intervene in the case. Their attorney said they have standing to join the case because those bringing the suit want to re-open schools and the economy, against the advice of public health experts, and the unions represent workers that will be directly affected should that occur.
Their attorney is Lester Pines, an attorney at Pines Bach in Madison. He told reporters during a virtual press conference Tuesday that this “was probably one of the most serious cases we’ve ever handled.”
Representatives of the unions blasted legislative leaders for the lawsuit. Amy Mizialko, president of the MTEA, said the suit showed Republican leaders are committed only to “accumulating power” and “rigging Wisconsin’s economy.” Brenda Frary, treasurer of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, criticized Republicans for turning a public health crisis into a political dogfight.
Talking to reporters, Pines said the issue in the case is whether the Legislature actually has standing to bring this suit. He also called their legal argument “preposterous.” The lawsuit is another power grab, he said, and Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos are paying attention to their “campaign donors” instead of “public health experts.”
While the lawsuit was initiated by the Legislature, “we assume it was by the majority leader and the speaker,” Pines said. But their names appear nowhere on the suit to the Supreme Court. The Legislature never passed a law nor resolution authorizing this lawsuit. And, according to Pines, “there is nothing in Wisconsin law, or in the Wisconsin Constitution that allows the Wisconsin Legislature to bring lawsuits.”
The first time the Legislature ever sued in its own name was in early April, when it challenged the governor’s order to postpone the election, Pines said. At that time, Gov. Evers had 30 minutes to respond to the filing of the suit. The governor didn’t raise the issue of standing, and the court didn’t raise it on their own, Pines said. “It’s been raised now. And now that it’s been raised it has to be addressed.”
Pines said because legislators have the ability to write and pass legislation this suit showed that the Republican leaders who brought the suit don’t want to do that. They don’t have a veto proof majority and would need to work across the aisle to pass legislation related to the COVID-19 shutdown. “But Speaker Vos and Majority Leader Fitzgerald don’t want to do that,” Pines said. “Because if they do that they have to act like normal legislators and not like little dictators.”
Pines said the Legislature’s claim is weak, and there is no precedent showing they have standing to bring the suit before the court. “It is unprecedented that any entity, much less the Wisconsin Legislature, would file a petition and not say in the petition how it is authorized to bring the matter before the court.”
The Republicans want to argue before the Wisconsin Supreme Court the meaning of a specific state statute which authorizes DHS to issue rules or orders that combat communicable disease. “They claim that the word rule and the word order mean exactly the same thing,” Pines said. “Which on its face is preposterous.”
If the Wisconsin Supreme Court buys their argument, then the orders issued by Evers’ administration have to come back to the legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative rules, which is controlled by the Republicans. Giving them power over the manner in which Wisconsin re-opens its economy.
“They want to run to the Supreme Court because they think that the Supreme Court is in their back pocket and will do whatever they want,” Pines said. “And I think they’re gonna be sorely disabused.”
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