Civics: On Whose Authority? An Analysis of the Powers and Limits of the WI Governor and DHS Secretary

Rick Esenberg:

As we complete the fourth week of lockdown, many Wisconsinites are wondering how long this extraordinary state of affairs can continue and how it might end. And what happens if the Governor and Legislature cannot agree on what happens next?

These questions were given fresh urgency today after DHS Secretary-designee Angela Palm unilaterally determined that the “Safer at Home” order would continue through May 26, 2020, beyond the expiration of the Governor’s emergency declaration. But does the Evers administration really have the authority to order the widespread closure of churches, schools and businesses for another month without legislative input?

The following is an analysis of whether the Governor has that authority. While a stay-at-home order is subject to various constitutional limitations, it does not address what particular combination of legally permissible social-distancing provisions would be best.