Documenting America’s Path to Recovery: September 24, 2020

Welcome to Documenting America’s Path to Recovery, where we track the status of reopening in all 50 states. Today we look at a change in travel restrictions in Maine, North Dakota’s new risk level designations for 15 counties, a featured lawsuit, and more. Want to know what happened yesterday? Click here.

Since our last edition

What is open in each state? For a continually updated article on reopening status in all 50 states, click here.

  • Maine (Democratic trifecta): Gov. Janet Mills (D) announced travelers from Massachusetts no longer have to test negative for the coronavirus or self-quarantine for 14 days.
  • North Dakota (Republican trifecta): On Sept. 23, Gov. Doug Burgum (R) announced he was changing the risk level designation for 15 counties. Burgum reduced the risk level for three counties, moving them from green to blue on the state’s five-tiered risk-level system while increasing the risk-level for the other 12.

Daily feature: Featured lawsuit

Once a week, we take a closer look at a noteworthy lawsuit involving governmental responses to the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. We define a noteworthy lawsuit as one that has garnered significant media attention, involves major advocacy groups, or deals with unique legal questions. This week, we look at a lawsuit involving COVID-19 restrictions in Pennsylvania.

County of Butler v. Wolf

On Sept. 22, Judge William Stickman IV of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania declined to suspend his earlier order striking down some of Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) COVID-19 orders pending appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

What is at issue?

Wolf sought to suspend Stickman’s initial ruling, issued Sept. 14. In the initial ruling, Stickman, an appointee of President Donald Trump (R), 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 [Wolf’s] 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.”

How did the court rule?

Stickman ruled a suspension of his order was unnecessary, given his finding that Wolf had not met the “burden of establishing even the minimal showing of success on the merits” upon appeal. Stickman said Wolf’s participation in “large public protests across the Commonwealth” during the summer, and the voluntary suspension of certain stay-at-home and business closure orders undermined Wolf’s argument that his administration and the people of Pennsylvania would result in irreparable harm absent a delay.

What are the reactions, and what comes next?

Wolf said, “We’re working in the meantime to present schools and others with guidance to say ok, in our best estimation from the health point of view, you got to be careful if you get together.”