Gov. Tom Wolf’s Plea to State Supreme Court Over Emergency Powers May Backfire Big-Time – Meanwhile, Businesses Across PA Are Opening in Defiance of His Orders
Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday asked the state Supreme Court to intervene and rule in his favor immediately in the dispute on the bipartisan legislation passed last week ending his coronavirus emergency declaration.
In doing so, he may be painting himself into a corner.
As first reported by Lancaster-blog, on Wednesday Senate leaders Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) and Jake Corman (R-Centre) filed a petition in Commonwealth Court asking that Wolf be directed to issue an order ending the three-month-old declaration that shut many businesses across the state in hopes of slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
Under the black letter law, Title 35 — from which the governor’s emergency powers are drawn — allows the legislature to suspend a governor’s emergency declaration without the assent of the executive branch because the statute says that, upon passage of a concurrent resolution, the governor “shall” terminate the disaster declaration.
In arguably the most ironic statement he has made to date, Wolf said “Maybe, unbeknownst to me, somewhere embedded in the constitution is the right of one branch to arbitrarily decide to do something that is at odds with the constitution. I just don’t know where that is.”
By petitioning directly to the state’s highest court, Wolf is seeking to bypass the Commonwealth Court, where the GOP filed its claim, and have the high court intervene through “King’s Bench” jurisdiction, a tool that allows the supreme court to intervene in matters of “immediate public importance.”
A spokesperson for Corman, said moving the matter directly to the Supreme Court is “not something we oppose.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Duquesne Law School Professor Bruce Ledewitz, an expert on the state constitution, questioned why Wolf would be in such a hurry to have a court intervene, noting that the tactic could backfire.
“It’s a terrible legal strategy,” said Ledewitz. “I would think the governor would want to stay away from the courts because the statute is silent on presentment.”
To Ledewitz, the most natural reading of the statute favors the Republicans’ argument that no gubernatorial signature is required. If that is the case, then Wolf is left to argue that the statute is unconstitutional. If the court agrees, that could lead to the entire law establishing emergency powers to be declared unconstitutional.
“For him to rush to court makes very little sense to me,” said Ledewitz. “I don’t think he’s getting good legal advice.”