Wisconsin Supreme Court approves release of business’ COVID outbreak data

In June 2020, the  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and several other local media outlets requested data from the Wisconsin state health department concerning COVID-19 outbreaks.

In turn, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business lobby, sued to have such data blocked from public release.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled this week that the state’s health department is allowed to release the data, though the decision in the state’s highest court was narrowly divided at 4–3.

“The newspaper filed the records request after meatpacking workers and nursing home residents told reporters that employers had left them in the dark about outbreaks at their facilities, putting them and their families at risk,” the report noted.

Justice Rebecca Dallet wrote the majority opinion, stating that the lobbying group didn’t have the right to challenged the state agency’s authority to release the public health data upon request.

“WMC’s position would undo the legislature’s choice to preclude pre-release judicial review in most circumstances,” the justice wrote. Justice Brian Hagedorn was the only conservative justice to side with the liberal side of the bench, joining Justices Dallet, Ann Walsh Bradley and Jill Karofsky.

After the newspapers had filed requests for the data, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce quickly got involved, as the group cited that such data would “irreparably harm” its members, which include some of the biggest businesses in the state.

Chief Justice Annette Ziegler, along with conservative Justices Rebecca Bradley and Patience Roggensack, wrote a firm dissent, writing that the majority opinion in the case “short-circuited the standard judicial process,” adding that it “permitted the weaponization of private health information, so long as the government has gathered that information.”