BREAKING: Judge Rules Gov. Wolf, Secretary Levine’s COVID-19 Restrictions Unconstitutional
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s order closing “non-life-sustaining businesses” and his restrictions on gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic were unconstitutional, U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV ruled Monday.
The decision came in a case in which Butler, Greene, Fayette and Washington counties sued, claiming the emergency shutdown orders by Wolf and under the direction of Secretary of Health Rachel Levine were unconstitutional.
Stickman ruled in favor of individual and business plaintiffs, and he dismissed the county governments from the case. Individuals who won the favorable ruling include U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa.; state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler; and various businesses including hair salons and the Starlight Drive-In.
They and several businesses said their constitutional rights have been violated.
The full extent of this and how it affects the current lockdown and Wolf’s emergency powers hasn’t been explored, but the declaratory judgment says “(1) that the congregate gathering limits imposed by defendants’ mitigation orders violate the right of assembly enshrined in the First Amendment; (2) that the stay-at-home and business closure components of defendants’ orders violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and (3) that the business closure components of Defendants’ orders violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Stickman also said that the Wolf administration’s actions “were undertaken with the good intention of addressing a public health emergency,” but that “even in an emergency, the authority of government is not unfettered.”
“The liberties protected by the Constitution are not fair-weather freedoms — in place when times are good but able to be cast aside in times of trouble,” Stickman wrote. “There is no question that this country has faced, and will face, emergencies of every sort. But the solution to a national crisis can never be permitted to supersede the commitment to individual liberty that stands as the foundation of the American experiment.
“The constitution cannot accept the concept of a ‘new normal’ where the basic liberties of the people can be subordinated to open-ended emergency mitigation measures,” Stickman wrote. “Rather, the Constitution sets certain lines that may not be crossed, even in an emergency. Actions taken by defendants crossed those lines. It is the duty of the court to declare those actions unconstitutional.”
Current gathering limits in Pennsylvania, imposed in July, are 25 for indoor events and 250 for outdoor events. Stickman said in his ruling that he was not asked to address capacity limits at restaurants.