A recent Wisconsin Supreme Court decision should serve as a model for transforming the United States into a free society. Here is what led to it.
On March 24, the Wisconsin governor, Tony Evers, a Democrat, directed state health officials to issue a stay-at-home order for Wisconsin prohibiting non-essential travel in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state. The order (Emergency Order 28), which took effect the next day, was supposed to remain in effect until April 24. Under the order,
People don’t need permission to leave their homes, but are only allowed to do so for specific things, like going to the grocery store or to the doctor. People will be allowed to exercise outside, but are required to keep six feet between themselves and others, unless they live with the person. Group sports, like basketball, soccer and ultimate frisbee, are banned. Playgrounds are also closed. Essential businesses and operations, like hospitals, grocery stores, hardware stores and pharmacies, are allowed to continue operations.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services secretary, Andrea Palm, who issued the order, even wanted “people to limit their contact to five individuals for the duration of the order — not five individuals at a time, but five individuals total.” She dictated that failure to obey the order would result in imprisonment for 30 days, a $250 fine, or both.
On April 16, Governor Evers directed the state Department of Health Services to extend the state’s stay-at-home order until May 26. However, he graciously allowed public libraries to provide curbside pickup of books, golf courses to open with limited tee times, and non-essential businesses to do deliveries, mailings, and curbside pick-up. The new order also required all public and private schools to close for the remainder of the school year and mandated that “essential retail stores limit the number of people present in the store at one time, provide proper social-distance spacing for those waiting to enter; and provide at least two hours of shopping per week for vulnerable populations.”
But before the new order could run its course, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned the order and mandated that all future statewide restrictions to battle the coronavirus must be approved by the legislature.
It was Republican lawmakers who brought the legal challenge against Andrea Palm, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services secretary, and other officials in the department, for the draconian lockdown order. The Wisconsin Supreme Court, by a vote of 4-3, declared Palm’s Emergency Order 28 to be “unlawful, invalid, and unenforceable.” Palm “broke the law when she issued Emergency Order 28 after failing to follow emergency rule procedures required.” Palm “cites no authority for this vast seizure of power.” Palm’s argument “is without legal foundation and ignores more than 50 years of Wisconsin law.” In a concurring opinion, Justice Daniel Kelly wrote, “This comprehensive claim to control virtually every aspect of a person’s life is something we normally associate with a prison, not a free society governed by the rule of law.”
After the Court’s ruling, the Tavern League of Wisconsin, a nonprofit trade association that represents bars, told its members they could open immediately. Not all of the bars in Wisconsin opened, but those that did were inundated with customers. A now-famous picture of its bar filled with customers was posted on Twitter by Nick’s Bar in Platteville, Wisconsin.
Not everyone in Wisconsin was happy about the state’s Supreme Court decision.
Evers predicted “chaos” after the Court’s decision. He urged residents of Wisconsin to continue doing their part by staying home, following social-distancing guidelines, and limiting travel. “Just because Republicans said it can be a free-for-all, that doesn’t mean we have to throw that good judgment out the window,” the governor said.
Satya Rhodes-Conway, the mayor of Madison, said the Court’s ruling ending Wisconsin’s stay-at-home order was “outrageous,” “irresponsible,” and “really disappointing.” “The court has decided that with a flip of a switch the state is without any sort of public health guidance at all in response to this pandemic. Here in Madison we are still enforcing the safer-at-home order. Our public health director issued those orders countywide and really not much has changed locally,” explained the mayor in an interview on CNN.
Some local governments in Wisconsin issued their own stay-at-home orders and announced that the state’s order will continue to apply in their jurisdiction.
But no matter how much local governments in Wisconsin try to negate it, the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision is profound. It immediately and completely ended the state’s COVID-19 lockdown. It should serve as a model for transforming the United States into a free society, even when all of the coronavirus insanity has passed.
Even before the tyrannical, draconian, arbitrary restrictions on commerce, property rights, and civil liberties that were enacted by most state and local officials in response to the coronavirus, the United States was far from a free country. Civil asset forfeiture, incarceration for nonviolent or victimless crimes, warrantless searches, no-knock raids, federal regulations that apply to almost every area of commerce and life, redistribution of wealth, militarized police forces, licenses to work, and pervasive government surveillance were the norm.
What we need in the United States is a Wisconsin-like transformation. The bars in Wisconsin that filled up with willing patrons so soon after the state’s Supreme Court decision showed how immediately and completely freedom could be restored to the United States.
There are many things that the federal and state governments do — that they shouldn’t — that could be immediately and completely ended without any negative consequences other than that government bureaucrats would be out of a job.
For example, the drug war could be ended immediately and completely. All federal and state laws regarding the buying, selling, growing, processing, transporting, manufacturing, advertising, using, or possessing of any drug should and could be repealed without delay. All nonviolent drug offenders should and could be pardoned and released from prison without delay. All government agencies devoted to fighting the drug war should and could be eliminated without delay. A free market in drugs without any government interference, regulation, taxing, or licensing should and could be instituted without delay.
The result would be the instantaneous restoration of property rights, civil liberties, and personal freedom. The fact that more Americans might experiment with drugs is irrelevant. With freedom comes responsibility. Drug users would be ultimately responsible for the negative consequences of their actions. A free society has to include the right of people to take risks, practice bad habits, engage in addictive conduct, behave self-destructively, live an unhealthy lifestyle, participate in immoral activities, and undertake dangerous actions — including the use and abuse of drugs. But more important, it is not the job of government to prevent drug abuse; stamp out vice; be concerned with Americans’ personal eating, drinking, or smoking habits; or restrict or monitor any harmful or mood-altering substances that Americans want to consume.