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After Wisconsin court ruling, crowds descend on bars

Owner Michael Mattson opened the Friends and Neighbors bar after restrictions were lifted in Appleton, Wis.William Glasheen/The Post-Crescent via Associated Press/The Post-Crescent via AP

On Wednesday night in the heart of downtown Platteville, Wis., just hours after the Wisconsin Supreme Court threw out the state’s stay-at-home order, Nick’s on 2nd was packed wall to wall, standing room only.

It was sometime after 10 p.m. when ‘‘Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress’’ by The Hollies came over the loud speaker and a bartender took out his camera. In a Twitter broadcast, he surveyed the room of maskless patrons crammed together, partying like it was 2019.

A few were pounding on the bar to the beat. Some were clapping their hands in the air and some were fist-pumping, a scene so joyous they could have been celebrating the end of the worst pandemic in a century.


Instead, as Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers knew, they were just celebrating the apparent end of his power over them — at least for now.

‘‘We’re the Wild West,’’ Evers told MSNBC’s Ali Velshi on Wednesday night, reacting to the state Supreme Court’s ruling — which President Trump called a “win” — and the scenes of people partying in bars all across Wisconsin. ‘‘There are no restrictions at all across the state of Wisconsin. . . . So at this point in time . . . there is nothing compelling people to do anything other than having chaos here.’’

Chaos it was.

Right after the Supreme Court’s conservative majority issued a 4-3 ruling, invalidating the extension of the stay-at-home order issued by Evers’s appointed state health chief, the Tavern League of Wisconsin instructed its members to feel free to ‘‘OPEN IMMEDIATELY!’’

With Evers’s statewide orders kaput, local health authorities scrambled to issue city — or countywide — stay-at-home orders, creating a hodgepodge of rules and regulations all across the state that are bound to cause confusion, not to mention some traffic across county lines. It’s a situation unlike any in the United States as the pandemic rages on. But most of all, Evers feared that the court’s order would cause the one thing he was trying to prevent: more death.


Wisconsin has seen more than 10,900 COVID-19 cases and 421 deaths.

The state’s high court sided Wednesday with Republican legislators who sued the Evers administration in April, finding that the Democratic governor ‘‘cannot rely on emergency powers indefinitely’’ as the pandemic drags on for months.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Rebecca Bradley cited Korematsu v. United States, in which the Supreme Court allowed the internment of Japanese Americans as a way to ‘‘remind the state that urging courts to approve the exercise of extraordinary power during times of emergency may lead to extraordinary abuses of its citizens.’’

One conservative justice joined the other two liberals in dissenting.

Republican lawmakers wanted the state Legislature to have a say in the drastic public health measures that Evers’s administration, as in other states, have demanded that residents follow. The Supreme Court agreed, believing an unelected state health chief shouldn’t have such sweeping power over millions of people.

Evers said as far as he knew the Republicans did not have a plan.

‘‘We have no authority right now,’’ he said on MSNBC. ‘‘It’s been taken away.’’