Finally, we have a federal judge who understand that, pandemic or not, a governor’s authority is both finite and conditional.
A ruling by U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV noted that the executive actions of Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf in order coronavirus-related restrictions and shutdowns are unconstitutional, especially those on social gatherings and forcing all “non-life-sustaining” businesses to shutter, WPXI reported.
While Wolf’s actions may have been “undertaken with the good intention of addressing a public health emergency…even in an emergency, the authority of government is not unfettered,” Stickman wrote.
“The Constitution sets certain lines that may not be crossed, even in an emergency,” he added, suggesting that Wolf’s orders did indeed cross them.
WTAE reported the declaratory judgment stipulates: congregate gathering limits imposed by defendants’ mitigation orders violate the right of assembly enshrined in the First Amendment, the stay-at-home and business closure components of defendants’ orders violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the business closure components of the defendants’ orders violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
“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,” Stickman wrote.
“There is no question that this country has faced, and will face, emergencies of every sort. But the solution to a national crisis can never be permitted to supersede the commitment to individual liberty that stands as the foundation of the American experiment,” Stickman continued.
“The Constitution cannot accept the concept of a ‘new normal’ where the basic liberties of the people can be subordinated to open-ended emergency mitigation measures.”
Four counties filed suit against Wolf and state Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, as well as other officials, for allegedly trampling the constitutional rights of local businesses.
“This is about the third generation Italian restaurant here in Washington County that fears they will go out of business,” said Washington County’s commissioner Nick Sherman.
Butler County Commissioner Kim Geyer added that that the situation with COVID-19 was “hard to prepare and equip” for since information was “limited by what you hear for the first time during a public press conference that the Governor holds.”
Worse, the four counties were in the “Red Phase” with no end in sight when the suit was filed in May.
“We were really being flooded with emails and phone calls of folks who were terribly upset that their livelihoods were really being taken away from them in this process,” chairperson of the Butler County Board of Commissioners, Leslie Osche, told KDKA-TV.
All said, however, the U.S. Supreme Court earlier rejected a similar challenge to a governor’s ‘stay-at-home’ order by a group of businesses and a GOP candidate for state representative.
There are actually a number of constitutional considerations, among them being the Tenth Amendment, which says: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
The Constitution does not specifically prohibit governors and mayors from issuing lockdown orders, thereby the 10th Amendment applies: It is a power left to the states.
That said, governors and mayors cannot also deprive Americans of their liberty and pursuit of happiness, either – both of which are being affected by lockdowns.
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