Penn Governor Tom Wolf's Pandemic Restricition Are Once Again Debated in Court

In a previous ruling, Wolf's business closures, social distancing requirements, and police enforcement were ruled unconstitutional.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf returned to court today to defend his lockdown policies.

Governor Wolf was sued in May of 2020 over his mandates regarding capacity limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, the closure of ‘non-life sustaining’ businesses, and stay-at-home orders during the pandemic lockdown. 

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Butler County, Fayette County, Greene County, Washington County, small business owners throughout the counties, as well as  U.S. Representative Mike Kelly, and state Reps Marci Mustello, Daryl Metcalfe, and Tim Bonner.

Judge William S. Stickman IV ruled that the Governor’s actions were unconstitutional on September 14, 2020. The Western District judge specifically wrote “that the congregate gathering limits imposed by Defendants’ mitigation orders violate the right of assembly enshrined in the First Amendment,…that the stay-at-home and business closure components of Defendants’ orders violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” and finally “that the business closure components of Defendants’ orders violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” 

When Wolf’s statewide “mitigation efforts” went into place in March 2020, his office said that his administration “[supported] local law enforcement, permitting entities, and local officials to enforce if needed” and that “the governor [did] not want to expend valuable resources from the state police and PA National Guard because irresponsible people choose not to do the right thing.”

The lockdown measures were supported by many Pennsylvanians as a necessary safety measure during the outbreak of COVID-19. The stay-at-home orders and business restrictions are often credited with dressing the coronavirus infection rate during 2020.

Other state and federal courts have rejected various challenges to Wolf’s authority to impose public health orders in response to the pandemic,” according to NBC Philadelphia.

In his decision, Stickman emphasized, “Even in an emergency, the authority of government is not unfettered… 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.”

Now, almost over a year later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit heard arguments on behalf of the plaintiffs and defendants regarding the lockdown restrictions.

Phill Kline, Director of the Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society, which is supporting the litigation, described the case as “the most significant case related to the COVID lockdowns.” 

“Governor Wolf’s exertion of police powers cost thousands of Pennsylvanians their jobs, livelihoods, dignity, and freedom,” he said in a press release.

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