- After Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers (D) extended the state’s stay-at-home order until May 26, the state legislature issued a legal challenge against that extension.
- On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court sided with the legislature, ending the order immediately.
- Many businesses, such as bars, later reopened the same night and saw crowds of people packing into small spaces without masks.
- This is the second time the Republican-controlled state legislature has used the Supreme Court to strike down Evers’ coronavirus-related orders.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Strikes Down Stay-At-Home Order
People in Wisconsin flocked to bars Wednesday night, many of them crowding into small spaces while leaving their masks at home.
The sudden pilgrimage to bars began almost immediately after the state’s Supreme Court struck down Governor Tony Evers’ (D) stay-at-home order.
Last month, Evers’ administration extended the state’s stay-at-home order from April 24 to May 26. Shortly after that, the state’s legislature brought forth a legal challenge against the state’s health secretary, Andrea Palm.
In that lawsuit, lawmakers argued that such long-term decisions on citizens’ lives should be decided by the legislature—not just Evers’ administration.
In court, an attorney for Evers’ administration argued that state law gives the Wisconsin health department the authority “to do whatever is necessary to combat a novel, deadly, communicable disease like the one we’re facing today.”
Right away, though, the situation wasn’t looking good for Evers’ or his administration. The seven-member Court is made up of five conservative and two liberal justices. On top of that, the legislature that brought the lawsuit is Republican-controlled.
In hearings last week, conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley compared Evers’ orders to Korematsu v. United States, a controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision during World War II to uphold Japanese internment camps.
“I’ll direct your attention to another time in history in the Korematsu decision, where the Court said the need for action was great, and time was short, and that justified—and I’m quoting ‘assembling together and placing under guard all those of Japanese ancestry in assembly centers during World War Two,” she said
Could the secretary, under this broad delegation of legislative power or legislative-like power order people out of their homes into centers where they are properly socially distanced in order to combat the pandemic?” she asked.
Even though the Court ultimately sided with the legislature, the decision was narrow with a 4-3 vote. That was because one of the court’s conservative judges broke to dissent with the majority opinion.
The Court’s justices wrote in the majority opinion that “in the case of a pandemic, which lasts month after month, the Governor cannot rely on emergency powers indefinitely.”
Still, the Court noted that it wasn’t challenging the governor’s power to actually declare emergencies.
In their dissent, Justice Rebecca Dallet said, “This decision will undoubtedly go down as one of the most blatant examples of judicial activism in this court’s history. And it will be Wisconsinites who pay the price.”
Notably, the Republican-controlled legislature asked the Court for a six-day hold on its decision so they could negotiate stay-at-home orders with Evers, but the court shot that request down, reopening the state immediately.
Bars Reopen to Crowds
To be clear, the Court’s decision only affects Evers’ executive order. Local municipalities can still issue their own stay-at-home orders.
In fact, at least five cities and counties have now announced they’ll be extending their stay-at-home orders, most of them until May 26th. That includes Brown, Dane, Racine, Milwaukee, and Kenosha counties.
Many more cities and counties, however, are now free of stay-at-home orders. Because of that, many businesses started to reopen almost immediately after the decision was announced.
Much of the coverage around reopened businesses seemed to culminate with bars, as many customers could be seen packing into small spaces. In these photos, masks are rarely or nowhere to be seen.
Bar owner Chad Ardnt told WISN that while he respects people’s decision if they don’t want to come back yet, he also said he decided to reopen because he hadn’t been able to pay his employees for two months.
In a separate interview, bar-goer Gary Bertram told WISN that it should be people’s choice where they want to wear a mask or socially distance.
“If people have an issue with social distancing, they should be able to be, you know, they can stay separate or stay home,” Bertram said.
That logic goes against warnings from the majority of health experts who have noted that the spread of the coronavirus isn’t really that simple. That’s because the people who are going out to bars are also likely going to the grocery store and seeing family. They can then unintentionally spread the virus to people at those places even if other people are social distancing and only going out when necessary.
Evers Blasts the Court’s Decision
As people flocked to those bars, Evers blasted the Supreme Court decision on MSNBC Wednesday night while speaking to Ali Velshi.
“Unfortunately, in this one fell swoop, four judges who didn’t really care what the statues talk about have thrown our state into chaos,” Evers said.
“We’re in the wild West, Ali,” he later added.
Taking a different tone, Wisconsin’s Speaker Robin Vos (R) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) said in a joint statement that they urged the Evers administration to begin working with Republicans to begin drafting guidance in case the state sees a surge of COVID-19 cases.
“Wisconsin now joins multiple states that don’t have extensive ‘stay at home orders’ but can continue to follow good practices of social distancing, hand washing, hand sanitizer usage and telecommuting,” they added. “This order does not promote people to act in a way that they believe endangers their health.
President Donald Trump backed the Court’s decision Thursday morning, saying on Twitter that Wisconsin “was just given another win.”
“Its Democrat Governor was forced by the courts to let the State Open,” he said. “The people want to get on with their lives. The place is bustling!”
The Court’s decision highlights the current relationship between Evers’ administration and the legislature, which has been described as “bitterly divided.”
The legislature previously sued Evers for trying to delay the state’s April 13 primary, and like the decision being seen now, the Wisconsin Supreme Court sided with the legislature.
Before Evers took office in 2019, the legislature voted to strip power from the governor’s seat following his election win.
See what others are saying: (WISN) (The Washington Post) (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say
The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card
Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.
Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.
On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.
The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.
Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
Misuse of COVID Relief Funds
Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.
In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.
According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”
On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.
In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.
See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Paris Hilton Urges Lawmakers To Crack Down on Abusive Teen Treatment Facilities
The heiress alleges that she was a victim of abuse in these types of centers for two years and wants to ensure that no child suffers through the same experience.
Paris Hilton Details Abuse Within “Troubled Teen Industry”
Socialite and entrepreneur Paris Hilton spoke outside of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to support the Accountability for Congregate Care Act, which is set to be introduced in the near future.
Hilton joined Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to advocate for the legislation, which aims to create a “bill of rights” for children in treatment and behavioral centers.
The heiress has alleged that she spent two of her teenage years in these types of facilities and was subject to rampant abuse. She is far from alone.
During a press conference, Hilton said that one night when she was 16, she woke up to two large men in her bedroom forcing her out of her house. She said she screamed for help because she thought she was being kidnapped, but her parents watched as she was taken away to a “troubled teen” program.
“Like countless other parents of teens, my parents had searched for solutions to my rebellious behavior,” she explained in an op-ed for The Washington Post this week. “Unfortunately, they fell for the misleading marketing of the ‘troubled teen industry’ — therapeutic boarding schools, military-style boot camps, juvenile justice facilities, behavior modification programs and other facilities that generate roughly $50 billion annually in part by pitching ‘tough love’ as the answer to problematic behavior.”
Hilton said she was sent to four different facilities where she was “physically and psychologically abused.”
“I was strangled, slapped across the face, watched in the shower by male staff, called vulgar names, forced to take medication without a diagnosis, not given a proper education, thrown into solitary confinement in a room covered in scratch marks and smeared in blood and so much more,” she explained during the press conference.
“At Provo Canyon School in Utah, I was given clothes with a number on the tag. I was no longer me, I was only number 127,” she continued. “I was forced to stay indoors for 11 months straight, no sunlight, no fresh air. These were considered privileges.”
Goals of the Accountability for Congregate Care Act
Hilton claims that a lack of transparency and accountability has allowed this structure of abuse to thrive for decades. In some cases, she said it has taken children’s lives. Now, she wants Congress and President Joe Biden to act.
“This bill creates an urgently needed bill of rights to ensure that every child placed into congregate care facilities is provided a safe and humane environment,” Hilton said of the Accountability for Congregate Care Act.
“This bill of rights provides protections that I wasn’t afforded, like access to education, to the outdoors, freedom from abusive treatment, and even the basic right to move and speak freely. If I had these rights and could have exercised them, I would have been saved from over 20 years of trauma and severe PTSD.”
Foster children, children being treated for mental disorders, and other children in youth programs would be impacted by the bill.
Hilton was one of several survivors and advocates who fought for the legislation on Wednesday. Rep. Khanna thanked them for using their stories to fight for change.
“No child should be subjected to solitary confinement, forced labor, or any form of institutional abuse,” he wrote. “Thanks to Paris Hilton, my colleagues & the survivors & advocates who joined us today to discuss how we can hold the congregate care industry accountable.”
While only Democratic legislators are currently sponsoring the bill, Hilton called for a bipartisan effort to fight for the rights of children.
“Ensuring that children are safe from institutional abuse isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue,” Hilton said. “It’s a basic human rights issue that requires immediate attention.”