“The liberties protected by the Constitution are not fair-weather freedoms…”


“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.” U.S. District Court Judge William Stickman IV

Wolf’s pandemic shutdown ruled unconstitutional by federal judge

By David Wenner | dwenner@pennlive.com Updated 4:36 PM; Today 1:06

A federal judge in western Pennsylvania has ruled that the coronavirus-related shutdown imposed by Gov. Tom Wolf is unconstitutional for reasons including violating the First Amendment Right to assemble.

U.S. District Court Judge William Stickman IV said the limits on gatherings of 25 people indoors and 250 out of doors, as well as the stay-at-home and business closure components of the orders issued by Wolf and Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine were both unconstitutional.

The suit was brought by four western Pennsylvania counties and several Republican state lawmakers.

It was filed during the “red phase” when many businesses were closed as the result of Wolf’s order.

A spokeswoman for Wolf said he was reviewing the decision and had no immediate response.

“The court closes this opinion as it began, by recognizing that defendants’ actions at issue here were undertaken with the good intention of addressing a public health emergency,” Stickman wrote. “But 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.”

UPDATE, 4 P.M.: Wolf administration plans appeal

[snip]

Senate Republicans issued the following statement:

“The courts have validated what we have been saying all along – Governor Wolf’s arbitrary and open-ended decisions violate the Constitution. The founding fathers established a system of checks and balances that – even in an emergency – can and do function within the bounds of the Constitution

“By his own statement, the Governor has indicated that we are returning to a ‘new normal’ and we have long questioned his ability to do without the involvement of the legislature. The federal court has upheld that the laws of this country do not provide for a Governor to create his ‘new normal,’ rather the law provide for three separate but equal branches of government who have sworn to uphold the Constitution.

“The General Assembly proved that time and again as we acted in a bipartisan manner to pass dozens of pandemic-related bills. Including efforts to reopen the state, extending necessary resources to vulnerable populations and nursing homes, ensuring our state’s children are educated and hold the administration accountable for unilateral actions.

“While we work to protect lives, we cannot disregard the civil liberties of Pennsylvanians. We hope that this ruling will signal to the Governor that he must no longer spurn attempts by the General Assembly to provide input through legislation.

“We remain open and willing to work with Governor Wolf on a real plan to that puts Pennsylvania first. It is far past time for him to abandon his go-it-alone approach and come to the table to work with the General Assembly on real solutions.”

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