Judge Rules Gathering Restrictions Unconstitutional

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PITTSBURGH, Pa. – A U.S. District Court judge in Pittsburgh ruled some of the more stringent COVID-19 restrictions imposed by Governor Tom Wolf’s administration “unconstitutional” in a ruling Sept. 14, 2020.

U.S. District Judge William S. Stickman IV found that state-imposed limits on outdoor gatherings, stay-at-home orders and business shutdown orders violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The suit was brought by Butler, Fayette, Greene and Washington Counties, with several businesses and Republican office-seekers joining.

Defendants included Gov. Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania Health Secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine.

In the ruling, Stickman acknowledged “defendants undertook their actions in a well-intentioned effort to protect Pennsylvanians from the virus.”

However; “good intentions toward a laudable end are not enough to uphold governmental action against a constitutional challenge,” Stickman added.

“The liberties protected by the Constitution are not fair-weather freedoms,” Stickman wrote. “In place when times are good, but able to be cast aside in times of trouble.”

UPDATE, 3:45 p.m.

Following a press conference where she called on college and university students to be vigilant in their efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, Levine said the Office of General Counsel would review the opinion.

“I really can’t say more at this time,” Levine said.

Levine again emphasized the administration’s “strong recommendation” that people do what is necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“We strongly recommend that people continue to practice the efforts to stop the spread of this virus,” she said. “That means mask wearing, hand sanitizer and hand washing, and it also means the social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. It’s critically important, no matter what the court case is, that people follow these very important guidelines, and are united in doing that, to stop the spread of the virus.”

UPDATE, Wolf’s office releases statement

The governor’s office released the following statement:

“The administration is disappointed with the result and will seek a stay of the decision and file an appeal. The actions taken by the administration were mirrored by governors across the country and saved, and continue to save lives in the absence of federal action. This decision is especially worrying as Pennsylvania and the rest of the country are likely to face a challenging time with the possible resurgence of COVID-19 and the flu in the fall and winter.

“Today’s court ruling is limited to the business closure order and the stay at home orders issued in March and were later suspended, as well as the indoor and outdoor gathering limitations.

“This ruling does not impact any of the other mitigation orders currently in place including, but not limited to the targeted mitigation orders announced in July, mandatory telework, mandatory mask order, worker safety order, and the building safety order.

More will be added as this story develops.

The full opinion can be read here (From John L. Micek of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star)

Federal Opinion by jmicek