Federal judge finds Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 orders unconstitutional

On September 14, 2020, Judge William Stickman IV, of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, struck down some of Penn. Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) COVID-19 orders as violations of rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Various Pennsylvania counties, businesses, and elected officials brought the lawsuit County of Butler v. Wolf, which challenged restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings, the continued closure of “non-life-sustaining” businesses, and prolonged stay-at-home orders. In his decision, Stickman wrote the “liberties protected by the Constitution are not fair-weather freedoms,” and 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.” President Donald Trump (R) appointed Stickman to the federal bench.

Stickman found “(1) that the congregate gathering limits … violate the right of assembly enshrined in the First Amendment; (2) that the stay-at-home and business closure components of defendants’ orders violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and (3) that the business closure components of defendants’ orders violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Stickman limited remedy to the plaintiff individuals and businesses, dismissing the counties for lacking standing to sue.

Thomas E. Breth, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said, “You can’t tell 13 million Pennsylvanians that they have to stay home. That’s not America. It never was. That order was horrible.” Lyndsay Kensinger, Wolf’s press secretary, indicated that Wolf would seek to stay the decision while seeking an appeal, adding that the “ruling does not impact any of the other mitigation orders currently in place including … mandatory telework, mandatory mask order, worker safety order, and the building safety order.”

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