PA Governor’s Covid Restrictions Ruled Unconstitutional By Federal Judge – Violates 1st & 14th Amendments

PENNSYLVANIA

Federal judge rules Gov. Wolf’s shutdown orders were unconstitutional

September 14, 2020

A federal judge in Pittsburgh on Monday ruled that orders issued by Gov. Tom Wolf restricting the size of gatherings and closing nonessential businesses to protect against the spread of covid-19 were unconstitutional. …

U.S. District Judge William S. Stickman IV wrote in his 66-page opinion that, even though the actions taken in the spring by Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine were laudable, they violated the First Amendment right to freedom of assembly, and the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.

“It’s a complete and total victory for the counties, the businesses and the representatives,” said attorney Thomas W. King III, who represented the plaintiffs in the case. “You can’t order the entire population of Pennsylvania to stay at home.” …

She noted Monday’s order does not apply to the mandatory mask order or the mandatory work-from-home order previously implemented and still in effect.

The plaintiffs…. The businesses included three hair salons, an appliance store, a farm and two drive-in theaters. …

After reviewing the record, Stickman said he “believes that defendants undertook their actions in a well-intentioned effort to protect Pennsylvanians from the virus. However, good intentions toward a laudable end are not alone enough to uphold governmental action against a constitutional challenge.”

Stickman, who was appointed to the bench in 2019, said “even a vigilant public may let down its guard over its constitutional liberties only to find that liberties, once relinquished, are hard to recoup and that restrictions — while expedient in the face of an emergency situation — may persist long after immediate danger has passed.”

King said the judge’s decision finding gathering limits to be unconstitutional now *applies to everyone in Pennsylvania*.

He said the finding that the stay-at-home order was unconstitutional means it can never be repeated.

As for the closure of nonessential businesses, King believes that will open the door to business owners filing lawsuits against the state seeking relief, or compensation, for their losses during the closure. …

Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches law at Saint Vincent College, said Stickman’s opinion is not precedent-setting for the other federal courts, but does carry persuasive value and likely will be cited in other jurisdictions where these issues are being argued. …

“The fact is that the lockdowns imposed across the United States in early 2020 in response to the covid-19 pandemic are unprecedented in the history of our commonwealth and our country,” Stickman wrote. “They have never been used in response to any other disease in our history. They were not recommendations made by the CDC.” 

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security….

Although Monday’s orders apply to state-level action, Adalja said municipalities and counties still have the ability to intervene for public health reasons — which means they can implement their own restrictions on crowd sizes for gatherings [King disagrees: “applies to everyone in Pennsylvania”].

STORY

 

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