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State Supreme Court rejects COVID-19 restrictions challenge

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday turned away a challenge of Dane County’s ban on indoor gatherings in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

In a 4-3 vote, the high court rejected the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty’s request that it bypass lower courts and take up its case. Dane County has since relaxed restrictions on all private gatherings indoors, including sports activities and those in private homes. In his majority opinion, Justice Brian Hagedorn emphasized the Supreme Court isn’t designed to take up cases in the first instance, a job meant for circuit courts.

“This court is designed to be the court of last resort, not the court of first resort,” Hagedorn wrote. “That is why we have historically been receptive to original actions only rarely. I hope we return there again.”

Three justices wanted to take up the case, saying the high court should not delay in taking up cases that involve fundamental liberties.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of a Dane County business owner and two Dane County residents contended the county and the city of Madison, through its health orders, unlawfully handed over their lawmaking authority to the city-county health department.

The order, which applied to people who do not live together, went into effect last month and lasted until Dec. 16. It required face coverings and limited the capacity for most businesses to 50%, along with many other provisions.

The order tightened the health department’s then-existing ban on mass gatherings, defined as “any planned event with a large number of individuals in attendance, such as a concert, festival, meeting, training, conference, performance, show, or sporting event.”

The health department has maintained its order was legal.

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