It's safe to predict that the Wisconsin Supreme Court will invalidate the state’s "Safer at Home" order. The hearings this week on the policy were an empty exercise on the way to a foregone conclusion.
Shakespeare would have called the hearings a dumb show, which means a pantomime. The ruling will result in a shit show, which needs no explanation.
Gov. Tony Evers’ COVID-19 mitigation strategy, while effective, is toast. The Republicans who brought the suit are willing to recklessly endanger the health of Wisconsinites to get them back to work. That's the goal of Republicans' most important constituency — their wealthy donors.
"Safer at home" is credited with keeping the state’s caseload much lower than original projections. That’s why more than 100 professional health care groups signed a letter to the court praising the policy and urging the justices to leave it intact.
But the court wouldn’t allow medical professionals to testify. The Republican justices who dominate the court with a 5-2 majority didn’t want public airing of facts that could raise questions about their decision.
The health experts would have told the court that before Safer at Home, the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus was doubling every 3.4 days. Afterward, the number of positive COVID-19 tests doubled every 12.4 days.
Nevertheless, business interests, along with an increasing number of broke and stir-crazy citizens, have had enough. They want to be free of the stifling chains that Evers has bound them in, even if those chains have saved their lives.
Anti-lockdown protesters, who consider themselves a freedom movement, are backed by right-wing advocacy groups that have familiar names behind them, including Koch. If their rallies resemble pro-Trump gatherings, that's because they also serve that purpose — and at a time when the president himself has been shut down by the pandemic.
But to the backers' chagrin, the rallies have become increasingly joined by white supremacists, militia groups and gun fanatics. Anti-choice activists, anti-vaxers, and neo-Nazis are also sprinkled among them, making for a 360-degree view of the radical right. That view could be a turn-off for some people who agree with re-opening the economy but don't want to jump in a pool full of extremists.
Evers’ administration has recognized the frustration and economic perils of continuing the social-distancing and isolation policies long enough to stop the pandemic. He’s trying to accommodate the resistance crowd by rolling out a gradual lifting of restrictions.
Evers hopes that, if it’s done carefully enough, he can tone down public anger and circumvent a spike in new cases that would overwhelm hospitals.
‘Definition of tyranny’
The justices conducted the hearings via Zoom, from the comfort of their own homes. They’re willing to go through the motions of a trial, but they’re not crazy enough to meet in a public place while a deadly and highly contagious coronavirus floats invisibly in the air. They're inappropriately partisan, but most of them aren't stupid.
Judges are supposed to listen impartially and weigh arguments from both sides in a case. But the Republican justices didn’t even pretend to be impartial.
Instead of listening, they argued their own viewpoints, displaying sarcasm, ignorance, prejudice and elitism in the process.
Esquire magazine tuned in to watch the proceedings and described the antics of the right-wing justices as “compelling theater of the absurd.”
Some remarks made by the justices fit that description.
Justice Rebecca Bradley damned the state’s shutdown as “the very definition of tyranny.”
Screwing her face into a fist, Bradley suggested that quarantining people to fight a deadly pandemic is the moral equivalent of incarcerating Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during World War II. That’s a false equivalency that only someone drenched in privilege and a stranger to racism could make.
The defense might have argued that forcing people either to work in life-threatening conditions or starve to death is the definition of slavery. But it was hard to get a word in edge-wise.
The right of states to suspend individual freedoms to protect their citizens is established U.S. law. As far back as 1793, the City of Philadelphia was isolated to contain an outbreak of yellow fever.
In a 1905 ruling about the constitutionality of mandated vaccinations for small pox, the U.S. Supreme Court said:
“But the liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint. There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good.”
The incarceration of Japanese-Americans was an extreme act of racial bias that had nothing to do with the common good. And the safer at home order is not intended to keep possible bad players off the streets. It’s a strategy for saving lives.
In one of her embarrassing comments, Republican Justice Patience Roggensack channeled Leona Helmsley’s “only the little people pay taxes” moment.
When presented with the exploding number of cases in Brown County as an example of how fast the virus is spreading, she replied: “These were due to the meatpacking. That’s where Brown County got the flare. It wasn’t just the regular folks in Brown County.”
That statement prompted a rush of people to social media to ask, “Who are the regular folks?”
Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of the immigrant advocacy group Voces de la Frontera, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Roggensack’s words were “elitist” and “racist.” Neumann-Ortiz noted that a high percentage of workers at meatpacking plants are minorities and immigrants.
Best court money can buy
It’s often said that the Wisconsin Supreme Court is the best that money can buy, and the wealthy individuals, corporations and special interest groups that shoveled millions of dollars into electing Roggensack, Bradley and the others, would do anything to end the shutdown, even if it meant sacrificing lives. Republican officials and business leaders, including the regular people’s folk hero Donald Trump, have openly acknowledged feeling that way. They don’t even know their attitude might seem objectionable.
Without the “real people” to work in their plants and buy their products, the wealthy are losing a lot of money. Those real Americans are the source of their wealth and privilege, and they cannot afford for the state to abide by rules keeping them from working to create that wealth.
Ultimately, it’s allegiance to their big-money backers and their Republican political allies in the Legislature that will determine the court’s decision in the shutdown case. Remember, this court is all politics, all the time. This is the same court that in early April told citizens they could either give up their right to vote or stand in very long lines during a surging pandemic. They could have offered voters a third choice by postponing the election. That’s what every other state with an election scheduled in April did.
But that choice could have hurt their political agenda. Republican justices did not want to lose their colleague, the anti-bellum throwback Dan Kelly. He’s the guy that wrote same-sex marriage is a form of affirmative action, which itself is a form of slavery.
Kelly, who was appointed by Scott Walker, was running for retention on April 7. Conventional wisdom holds that keeping urbanites away from the polls increases the odds for Republican victories, and Republican judges saw their opportunity to ensure Kelly’s victory. After all, they’ve used every other weapon in their arsenal to keep young people, educated people, and people with swarthy complexions out of the voting booth.
But proving that karma is real, Kelly lost anyhow to Democrat-backed Jill Karofsky.
It’s believed that 67 voters contracted coronavirus at the polls that day.
The toll of lifting Evers’ social-distancing and isolation orders will be much grimmer. Lifting the lockdown policy would be coming at a time when record numbers of new cases are being found on a regular basis. The state is learning the problem is much more extensive than originally thought.
As of 6 p.m. on May 7, 8,236 cases had been confirmed in the state and 340 patients had died. Experts say there are many more cases that are yet to be discovered or confirmed, as well as additional deaths that have not been recorded or attributed to COVID-19.