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Two bad reasons

This past week, Marathon County Sheriff Scott Parks announced that county residents should not call his department with complaints about people not wearing face masks in defiance of Gov. Tony Evers’ emergency order. He gave two reasons. The first was that the order is possibly unconstitutional. The second was that his department is too busy.

We don’t buy either reason.

The sheriff says that he has been questioned by citizens how he could possibly enforce the governor’s order given how it infringes upon our constitutional rights.The sheriff is sensitive to criticism that he would use his office to somehow subvert the U.S. Constitution and lays out his position.

The United States Constitution is the foundation the nation was built on. It was drafted to preserve the rights our forefathers were seeking. I am committed to protecting those inalienable rights for we have no other recourse but to do that.

We are glad the sheriff is so devoted to the Constitution. We are unhappy, however, he would try to placate his libertarian political friends with such star-spangled bluster and then fail to tell the truth. The governor’s order, like it or not, is perfectly constitutional. We need only turn to a case decided this year by the U.S. Supreme Court, South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Gavin Newsom, Governor of California, to understand what the Constitution says about government taking away the liberty of individuals in the pursuit of public health. In this case, a California Pentecostal Church objected on First Amendment religious liberty grounds that Gov. Newsom’s order to limit the number of people in gatherings during the COVID-19 outbreak was unconstitutional. The court disagreed, saying: Our Constitution principally entrusts the safety and the health of the people to the politically accountable officials of the states to guard and protect. When those officials undertake to act in areas fraught with medical and scientific uncertainties, their latitude must be especially broad.

What the Supreme Court is saying is that the Constitution directs elected officers, such as Sheriff Parks, to guard and protect public health. Such enforcement doesn’t infringe on the public’s rights. It is precisely what citizens can expect of their elected government under the Constitution.

The sheriff tells citizens not to phone in mask mandate reports to his department’s communication center because dispatchers already have enough to do handling EMS, fire and law enforcement calls. He notes that the Wisconsin attorney general will soon rule whether the mask mandate should be enforced by local police or county health departments.

We aren’t going to second guess Sheriff Parks whether on any given day enforcing a mask mandate should be the top priority of his department. We will point out, however, that the sheriff’s department, among its many duties, enforces traffic laws. These have nothing to do with the criminal code. The reason sheriff’s deputies do traffic patrol is to minimize loss of life in accidents. In 2019, the county had 14 traffic fatalities. The year prior it was nine. Yet, the county to date has lost nine people to COVID-19 and, as cases continue to spike, the death toll will likely rocket past 14 by year’s end. A sheriff’s department that has time to write speeding tickets to save lives should have time to do what it can to help cut down on COVID-19 cases.

When North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, ordered the evacuation of Native Americans from Standing Rock in 2016, Sheriff Parks, also a Republican, sent deputies to enforce that governor’s order. In 2020, the sheriff, however, can’t find deputies to enforce an emergency order of the governor of this state. Gov. Evers, of course, is a Democrat.

Sheriff Parks notes all law enforcement is discretionary. True enough, but we count on the sheriff’s department to “serve and protect” the well-being of Marathon County citizens no matter what party the governor belongs to.