Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A group of labor unions asked the state Supreme Court on Tuesday for permission to help defend Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order from Republicans who are trying to overturn it.

The order, which was issued by state Department of Health Secretary Andrea Palm at Evers’ direction, required people to stay home except for going out to buy groceries or for other important reasons, and required most nonessential businesses to close.

The order is designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but Republicans and business leaders contend that the order has crippled the economy. GOP legislators filed a lawsuit directly with the conservative Supreme Court on April 21 seeking to block the order. They argue that it amounts to an administrative rule and Palm needed the Legislature’s approval before she could issue it.

The order is set to expire on May 26. Evers has ripped the lawsuit as a blatant attempt to weaken his administration’s powers, calling it a “political coup.”

The Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, Madison Teachers Inc., Service Employees International Union Healthcare Wisconsin and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 filed a motion with the court Tuesday morning seeking to intervene in the case.

They argue that the Legislature lacks the standing to sue because it hasn’t shown it would suffer any injury if the order continued. The unions acknowledged the legislators’ argument that allowing the order to stand would hamper lawmakers’ ability to oversee administrative rules, but they insist that the order is not a rule.

The unions went on to argue that state law allows the DHS to unilaterally issue rules or orders to protect the state from communicable diseases. The Legislature would take weeks to promulgate such a rule, putting people at risk of infection, they contend.

Evers was expected to file a formal response to the lawsuit later Tuesday. He faces an uphill fight, though. Conservative justices hold a 5-2 majority and earlier this month they struck down his order postponing the state’s April 7 presidential primary and spring elections in the face of the pandemic.

Still, the unions’ attorney, Lester Pines, said he was holding out hope that the court might side with the governor. A number of the conservative justices adhere to a textualist philosophy — meaning they look for the plain meaning of statutes — and state law clearly allows the DHS to issue protective orders and rules.

Evers’ office on Tuesday released a letter dated Thursday from more than 200 local government officials, medical professionals and organizations supporting his stay-at-home order.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative law firm, filed a brief Tuesday on behalf of the Independent Business Association of Wisconsin, Double Decker Automotive in Pleasant Prairie, and Shear Xcellence, a hair salon in Grafton. The businesses argued that the DHS has assumed so much power that it has come “perilously close” to tyranny and that legislators never intended to give the executive branch so much power.