Wolf’s restrictions, some of the most draconian in the country, have inflicted the Keystone State’s communities with mass unemployment, social disorder, widespread despair, and overall economic decline.
Following the disastrous shutdowns in states like New York and New Jersey, lawmakers may want to emulate Pennsylvania’s constitutional remedy.
By Charles Mitchell – February 11, 2021
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, state sovereignty was viewed as a check on federal encroachment. Americans welcomed this limit on centralized power.
But amid the ongoing panic, the coercive effects of unbridled executive authority are on display in the states themselves. This authoritarian streak is evident in New York, California, and Michigan, and my home state, Pennsylvania, where Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s shutdown orders—enforced through emergency powers—have flung economic shrapnel.
Wolf’s restrictions, some of the most draconian in the country, have inflicted the Keystone State’s communities with mass unemployment, social disorder, widespread despair, and overall economic decline. Other states should view Pennsylvania’s course as an alarming model for how their own governors and local officials can seize unlimited “emergency” executive governance.
In response to Wolf, Pennsylvanians—beginning with their representatives in the state’s General Assembly—are pursuing a voter-driven remedy that could serve as a national model. A constitutional amendment, placed before voters this year, would check a governor’s unilateral, indefinite emergency powers. If approved, Pennsylvanians could prevent an encore of what unfolded this past year, and inspire other states to follow their lead.
Of course, there’s no denying that a governor plays a crucial role in an emergency. This was true last spring, when COVID-19 required a top-level governmental response. In such instances, the great advantage of our republic—its separation of powers—temporarily becomes a liability.
Emergency powers are therefore granted to an executive—the president, governor, or even a mayor—to act decisively in defense of citizens. In Pennsylvania, state law caps the duration of emergency declarations to 90 days but places no limit on the number of times a governor can unilaterally renew them.