How Republicans Screwed Themselves
Opposition to mask mandate by GOP is bad law and very bad politics.
At a time when new cases of COVID-19 are surging in Wisconsin, Republican state legislators and the conservative Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty (WILL) decided to oppose a mandate requiring that Wisconsinites wear masks in public places. Why did they regard this as a smart move?
President Donald Trump should be assigned a large portion of the blame. He has skittered all around the mask question, at times urging people to wear one, at others appearing maskless, and, of course, catching the disease. At some point, however, he decided to join the campaign against masks. This was an unwise move. On a policy level it undercut efforts to control the pandemic, leading to the United States’ failure to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Trumpist opposition to masks is seen most blatantly in the Trump rallies where people are crowded together, most unmasked. While it is puzzling that Trump seems to believe the way to reward his supporters is to endanger them, defying COVID-19 has become a mark of courage on the right. For some reason, the president thinks he has beaten the virus by catching it. In truth, by organizing super-spreading events, he has served the virus well. The virus needs people like Trump if it is to spread and prosper.
As a result, Trump has turned the mask question into a partisan issue, and one that cuts against Republicans. If they support a mask mandate, they risk offending the Trumpist base of their party, perhaps generating a future primary challenge. If they oppose the mandate, they may lose the support of other voters who prioritize the fight against the pandemic.
The lawsuit against the governor’s mask mandate by three citizens and managed by WILL offered a possible way out for the Republican legislators. If the courts agreed that Evers’ mandate was illegal, the mandate would go away without any need for Republicans to weigh in as to its merits. If any blame was to be found for the resulting spread of COVID-19, Republicans could shift blame to the courts, to Wisconsin laws, or to Governor Tony Evers for breaking the laws—not to the legislators.
Unfortunately for the legislators, Circuit Court Judge Michael Waterman declined to play this game. In a short ruling, he pointed that “if the legislature is unconvinced that a state of emergency does exist, the legislature has the ultimate power to terminate it” by a joint resolution. In a bit of judicial jujitsu, the judge went on to characterize the plaintiffs’ requested injunction “a judicial act that usurps the governor’s power to declare a state of emergency and the legislature’s power to end one.
In other words, don’t come looking to the courts to do your dirty work.
Why WILL has adopted this issue is a bit of a mystery. As a nonprofit, it can pick and choose its issues. Why pick one that, if successful, will allow the virus to spread further, and kill and sicken more Wisconsin residents?
In both its briefs and its statements to the press, WILL tries to paint the governor as a would-be tyrant. An article in the Journal Sentinel quotes Rick Esenberg, WILL’s president, as lamenting that “the Judge held that the Governor of the State of Wisconsin can rule the state by decree for an unlimited amount of time with the acquiescence of the legislature.”
Certainly, emergency orders can be abused. A good illustration is President Trump’s use of emergency orders to divert federal funds to building his wall along the border with Mexico after Congress refused to allocate funds for that purpose. Yet both Governor Evers’ earlier orders and his mask mandate seem very well focused on the emergency at hand, the world-wide pandemic.
If WILL is truly interested in ensuring that emergency orders are not abused, it would be better advised to concentrate on the content of the orders. Are they limited to steps that have been shown to reduce the emergency or are extraneous elements thrown in? This requires expertise, not demagoguery.
Finally, there is the issue of democracy. Should the expressed desire by the majority of Wisconsinites for a mask mandate be respected or are we stuck with tyranny by a minority?
- WI Daily: 481 New COVID-19 Cases Reported - Urban Milwaukee - May 18th, 2021
- City Mask Mandate Ends June 1st - Graham Kilmer - May 18th, 2021
- Businesses Changing Mask Policies - Corri Hess - May 18th, 2021
- More than 5,100 12-15 year-olds already vaccinated by Advocate Aurora Health - Advocate Aurora Health - May 18th, 2021
- WI Daily: 116 New COVID-19 Cases Reported - Urban Milwaukee - May 17th, 2021
- WI Daily: 232 New COVID-19 Cases Reported - Urban Milwaukee - May 16th, 2021
- About The CDC’s New Mask Guidance - Erik Gunn - May 16th, 2021
- WI Daily: 550 New COVID-19 Cases Reported - Urban Milwaukee - May 16th, 2021
- WI Daily: 513 New COVID-19 Cases Reported - Urban Milwaukee - May 14th, 2021
- Fully Vaccinated People Can Resume Activities Without Masks - Wisconsin Department of Health Services - May 14th, 2021
Read more about Coronavirus Pandemic here
- Court Watch: Why Court Voided Evers Emergency Order - Gretchen Schuldt - Apr 5th, 2021
- Statement by Heartland Institute Director Jeré Fabick on WI Supreme Court Victory Against Gov. Tony Evers - Heartland Institute - Mar 31st, 2021
- Senator Agard: Statement on Supreme Court Decision - State Sen. Melissa Agard - Mar 31st, 2021
- Wisconsin’s Hyperpartisan Supreme Court is Endangering the Public - Democratic Party of Wisconsin - Mar 31st, 2021
- Wisconsin Supreme Court: Gov. Evers’ Multiple Emergency Declarations Violate Law - Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty - Mar 31st, 2021
- Rep. Hesselbein Statement on Supreme Court Ruling on Emergency Orders - State Rep. Dianne Hesselbein - Mar 31st, 2021
- Statement on Wisconsin Supreme Court Decision - State Sen. Jon Erpenbach - Mar 31st, 2021
- Gov. Evers Releases Statement Regarding Supreme Court Decision - Gov. Tony Evers - Mar 31st, 2021
- Rep. Hintz: Statement on Wisconsin Supreme Court Ruling - State Rep. Gordon Hintz - Mar 31st, 2021
- State Supreme Court Overrules Evers’ Emergency Powers - Laurel White - Mar 31st, 2021
Read more about Statewide Mask Mandate here