A federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled Monday the state Democratic governor’s lockdown orders are unconstitutional, violating both the First and 14th Amendments.
The lawsuit, brought by Butler, Fayette, Greene, and Washington counties joined by Pittsburg-area Republican Congressman Mike Kelly and several state representatives, was filed in May arguing Gov. Tom Wolf’s orders implemented with state Health Secretary Rachel Levine to shut down businesses violated constitutional liberties. Seven businesses that included several hair salons and an appliance store had also joined the suit.
“Does a governor, any governor, our governor, Wisconsin’s governor, whomever, do they have the authority – through the Constitution through the United States of America – to shut down the economy the way they did or force closures of any businesses?” Washington County Commissioner Nick Sherman told a Pittsburg CBS affiliate in July.
In the 66-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge for the Western District of Pennsylvania William Stickman struck down Wolf’s limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings of up 25 and 250 people, respectively. The limitations, Stickman wrote, violate “the right of assembly enshrined in the First Amendment.”
Stickman ruled that the governor’s stay-home order and mandatory closure of businesses, which were deemed non-essential to curb the spread of the novel Wuhan coronavirus, infringed on citizen freedoms and discriminated based upon arbitrary “life sustaining” and “non-life sustaining” standards breaching 14th Amendment protections.
In the ruling, 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. Indeed, the greatest threats to our system of constitutional liberties may arise when the ends are laudable, and the intent is good — especially in a time of emergency.”
Stickman emphasized that once liberties erode under a public emergency, they become difficult to repossess.
“Even a vigilant public may let down its guard over its constitutional liberties only to find that liberties, once relinquished, are hard to recoup,” Stickman wrote.
Wolf’s office told the Inquirer they “are reviewing the decision.”