June 23, 2024

Pennsylvania officials stick with pandemic response despite court orders


Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Wolf, has urged people to take the coronavirus seriously following a federal judge ruling that Pennsylvania’s pandemic restrictions are unconstitutional.

On Tuesday September, 2020, Wolf, in reaction to Republicans’ celebratory response, said there was no sense debating a ruling that will be appealed.

“But what’s not up for debate is that our early and decisive action saved lives,” he added.

Plaintiffs, including four Pennsylvania counties, several Republican lawmakers and a number of local businesses, filed suit against Wolf and Dr. Rachel Levine, the state’s health secretary, in May, alleging that public health orders closing businesses and requiring people to stay at home violated their constitutional rights.

Certain counties were placed under stay-at-home orders starting in March, and a statewide order took effect in April, in addition to a March 19 order requiring all “non-life-sustaining” businesses to close.

Those measures relaxed as counties moved through a phased reopening plan, and as of July 3, the entire state is in the green phase, where mask requirements, capacity limits and gathering restrictions remain in place.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge William Stickman sided with the plaintiffs, finding the since-suspended business closure and stay-at-home orders as well as limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings were unconstitutional.

Stickman, who was appointed by President Trump, said in a 66-page opinion released Monday that the state’s actions, in view of the good intention of addressing the public health emergency, were arbitrary and overreaching.

“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.

He explained further that there is no question that this Country has faced, and will face, emergencies of every sort; nonetheless, 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.

Republicans at the state and national levels praised the decision on Monday, as well as Trump’s several tweets on the subject, writing in one that it was “great news.”

Pennsylvania Senate’s Republicans called the ruling “validated” their position and urged Wolf to work with the General Assembly “on real solutions.”

“By his own statement, the Governor has indicated that we are returning to a ‘new normal’ and we have long questioned his ability to do without the involvement of the legislature,” they wrote.

Republicans said the federal court has upheld that the laws of this country do not provide for a Governor to create his “new normal,” rather the law provides for three separate but equal branches of government who have sworn to uphold the Constitution.

On Tuesday, Wolf sharply accused the Legislature of misinforming the public about the virus and status of the economy as well as failing to help families and businesses affected by the pandemic.

“We need the president and the Legislature to get serious about our recovery, and that starts with being responsible about the virus. They are celebrating a court ruling while refusing to help anyone but themselves,” he said.

Levine, the health secretary, said on Tuesday that people should continue taking safety precautions regardless of the ruling.

She said existing orders on mask-wearing, mandatory telework and worker, building and hospital safety remain in effect, and the ruling does not affect occupancy limits at places such as personal care services, indoor recreation and wellness facilities, entertainment venues, bars and restaurants.

“Saving lives has been the cornerstone of all of our decisions, including the orders referenced in the case that have since expired, she said.

There have been efforts to upturn the governor’s actions to slow the spread of the coronavirus, including July’s state Supreme Court ruling that the Republican-controlled Legislature could not force Wolf to end his coronavirus disaster declaration.

The coronavirus is also coloring plans for the upcoming election in which many Pennsylvanians will vote by mail.

Officials are challenging growing concerns that some tens of thousands of ballots could be discarded over technicalities, including a perceived mismatch between the signatures on the ballot and in a voter’s file.

So far, Pennsylvania has reported a total number of 146,214 cases, including 1,151 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday.

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