PA Supreme Court May Rule This Week in Constitutional Showdown Over Gov. Wolf’s Emergency Declaration and Shutdown
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court may rule this week on whether legislators can end Gov. Tom Wolf’s pandemic emergency declaration.
If the court rules for the GOP, both Wolf and Republican legislators say that the governor’s ability to suspend regulations to manage the crisis will be curtailed, effectively ending the state-wide shutdown entirely.
As first reported by Lancaster-blog, 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.
But Wolf says his business shutdown orders and phased reopening plan will remain because they rest, in part, under the authority of transgender Secretary of Health Rachel Levine to contain and control disease.
Legislator say that authority is limited, and believe business closure orders would end.
The collision course between legislators and the governor began back in May when the state House of Representatives passed a version of HR 836 that would have terminated the governor’s coronavirus disaster declaration, specifically to the extent it treated some businesses differently than others. Two weeks later, the state Senate passed a resolution to terminate the declaration entirely, and the House quickly concurred.
That set up a standoff. Republicans argued that Pennsylvania law requires the governor to issue an order terminating the declaration immediately, while Democrats countered that Article Three of the state constitution gives the governor discretion to disapprove of the resolution — to veto or sign it — as he does with any other resolution.
The case reached the high court at Wolf’s request through a centuries-old paradigm known as King’s Bench jurisdiction, which allows the state’s highest court to rule on an issue without it first going through the lower courts.
Legislators have requested that the court hold oral arguments to address what they say “may be the most significant separation of powers case to be before the Court in some time.