A federal court judge on the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania ruled Monday that Gov. Tom Wolf’s and Health Secretary Rachel Levine’s state shutdown orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are unconstitutional.
Judge William Stickman IV noted that while the administration’s restrictions were well intended, “good intentions toward a laudable end are not alone enough to uphold governmental action against a constitutional challenge.”
“[E]ven in an emergency, the authority of the 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,” Stickman wrote in his ruling. “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.”
The ruling, found in the case of County of Butler v. Wolf, applies strictly to Wolf and Levine’s limits on the size of gatherings, stay-at-home orders, and business shutdowns, which were first ordered at the onset of the pandemic in March and have twice been renewed since.
“Never before has the government taken a direct action which shuttered so many businesses and sidelined so many employees and rendered their ability to operate, and to work, solely dependent on government discretion,” Stickman continued.
Plaintiffs in the case included several counties, businesses, and individuals, including U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) and state Reps. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), Marci Mustello (R-Butler), and Tim Bonner (R-Mercer/Butler).