Today, Judge William Stickman IV, a federal judge on the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, ruled Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine’s congregate gathering, stay-at-home and business shutdown orders unconstitutional in the case of County of Butler v. Wolf.
In his opinion, Stickman writes, in part: “[T]he response to a pandemic (or any emergency) cannot be permitted to undermine our system of constitutional liberties or the system of checks and balances protecting those liberties.
“[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…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. Rather, the Constitution sets certain lines that may not be crossed, even in an emergency. Actions taken by [the Governor] crossed those lines.”
In response, Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) and House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin) made the following statement:
“For the millions of unemployed Pennsylvanians, the thousands of small business owners that have seen their livelihoods permanently ended, and all those looking for some relief from these unilaterally imposed, inconsistent and contradictory shutdown orders, this opinion offers some form of hope that a return to normalcy might be on the horizon.
“Judge Stickman’s opinion confirms what Pennsylvania Republicans have been saying all along: The Wolf administration’s use of emergency authority is unconstitutionally overbroad.
“Given the nature of this opinion, we hope that Gov. Wolf will finally work with the General Assembly to develop a plan that keeps people safe, does not unconstitutionally penalize Pennsylvanians, and takes into account our geographical differences.”