Stories about Pennsylvania

U.S. Senate confirms Hardy to U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania

The U.S. Senate confirmed Scott Hardy to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania by a vote of 65-30 on July 27. The Western District of Pennsylvania is one of 94 U.S. District Courts. They are the general trial courts of the United States federal courts.

After Hardy receives his judicial commission and takes his judicial oath, the court will have one vacancy, seven Republican-appointed judges, and two Democrat-appointed judges. Hardy will join seven other judges appointed by President Trump.

Hardy was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1971. He earned his B.A., magna cum laude, from Allegheny College in 1993 and his J.D. from Notre Dame Law School in 1996. He was a shareholder at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., in Pittsburgh from 2010 to 2020.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed 201 of President Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—two Supreme Court justices, 53 appellate court judges, 144 district court judges, and two U.S. Court of International Trade judges—since January 2017.

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Pennsylvania House Speaker Turzai Resigns

Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai (R) resigned from the legislature on June 15 to take a job in the private sector. He was first elected as a state Representative in 2001 and had announced in January that he would not run for election in 2020. Turzai had served as Speaker of the House since January 2015. He previously served as the House majority leader from 2011 to 2014.

The current partisan composition of the Pennsylvania state House is 109 Republicans, 93 Democrats, and one vacancy. House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler (R) will serve as interim House Speaker.

The Morning Call reported that Turzai has expressed an interest in running for governor in 2022. He was a 2018 gubernatorial candidate but withdrew from the race before the filing deadline and ran for re-election to the state House of Representatives that year instead. Incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf (D) will be prevented by term limits from seeking re-election in 2022.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is among 22 state legislative chambers Ballotpedia has identified as battleground chambers for 2020. Democrats would need to flip nine of 203 seats in order to gain control of the chamber. Republicans will maintain control of the chamber if they lose partisan control of eight seats or fewer. In the 2018 elections, 31 races were decided by a margin of 10% or smaller.

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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announces stay-at-home order to end June 4

On June 3, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced that he would let the state’s stay-at-home order expire on June 4 at 11:59 p.m. There are currently 10 red-phase counties under the stay-at-home order. Wolf announced on June 3 that those counties could move into the yellow-phase on June 5. When that happens, all counties in Pennsylvania will either be in the yellow-phase or green-phase of Wolf’s reopening plan.

Pennsylvania will be the 36th state to end a stay-at-home order. After it ends, stay-at-home orders will remain in seven states. Six have Democratic governors. One (New Hampshire) has a Republican governor.

Philadelphia voters approve two charter amendment ballot measures

Voters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, approved two amendments to the city’s charter on June 2.

Question 1 created a Philadelphia Department of Labor, along with a Board of Labor Standards, to administer and enforce citywide labor laws and collective bargaining agreements. According to election night results, Question 1 had 80 percent of the vote.

Question 2 changed the city’s charter to state that appointed officers and employees can volunteer for statewide candidates. Before Question 2, the city’s charter said that appointed officers and employees could not take part in the management or affairs of a political campaign but did not specify how that relates to non-managerial volunteer activity. Question 2 was approved by 65 percent of voters.

Both Question 1 and Question 2 were placed on the ballot through a unanimous vote of the Philadelphia City Council.

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Pennsylvania extends absentee ballot receipt deadline to June 9 in six counties; postmark deadline remains June 2

On June 1, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) issued an executive order extending the absentee ballot receipt deadline for the June 2 primary to 5:00 p.m. on June 9 (with a postmark deadline of June 2, 2020) in Allegheny, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties. In all other counties, a return deadline of June 2 remains in effect.

Pennsylvania’s primary was originally scheduled to take place on April 28. On March 27, Wolf signed into law legislation postponing the primary to June 2. The law also authorized counties to consolidate polling places without court approval and begin processing mail-in ballots beginning at 7:00 p.m. on Election Day.

Pennsylvania is one of 28 states that have modified their absentee/mail-in voting procedures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Pennsylvania extends stay-at-home order for parts of the state through June 4

Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced Thursday that he was extending Pennsylvania’s stay-at-home order through June 4 for counties in the red phase of the state’s reopening plan. The order was passed on April 1 and was originally scheduled to expire on April 30. Wolf extended the statewide order through May 8 on April 20.
Counties in the red phase of the plan can move to the yellow phase before June 4 if they meet target goals such as having fewer than 50 new confirmed coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the last 14 days.
On April 22, Wolf announced the details of a three-phase reopening plan that would allow parts of the state to reopen at different times depending on county, city, and regional data. Twenty-four counties in the northern part of the state entered the yellow phase Friday, May 8. In the yellow phase, theaters and gyms remain closed, but some types of businesses, such as retail, can begin to reopen with restrictions. Bars and restaurants are limited to carry-out and delivery. Gatherings of more than 25 people are prohibited.
On May 8, Wolf announced that 13 additional counties would move from the red phase to the yellow phase on May 15.
Forty-three states issued statewide shutdown orders. Eight of those orders were set to last until modified or rescinded by the governor, while the other 35 had announced end dates.
As of May 8, 15 governors have ended their state’s stay-at-home orders. Twelve of those states have Republican governors and three have Democratic governors. Of the 28 states where governors have not ended their state’s stay-at-home orders, seven have Republican governors and 21 have Democratic governors. (Rhode Island’s stay-at-home order runs through the end of the day.)

SCOTUS declines to take up challenge against Pennsylvania order curtailing non-essential business operations

On May 6, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to intervene in a lawsuit over a Pennsylvania order curtailing the operations of non-essential businesses, allowing the state supreme court’s ruling, which upheld the order, to stand.

On March 24, the plaintiffs (a number of Pennsylvania businesses) petitioned the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to vacate Governor Tom Wolf’s (D) March 19 order restricting the operations of non-essential businesses in the state. The plaintiffs alleged that the order violated their constitutional rights to free speech, assembly, and judicial review. The plaintiffs also argued that the order violated their rights by depriving them of their property without due process or just compensation.

On April 13, the state supreme court rejected the plaintiffs’ claims, allowing the order to stand. On April 27, the plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of the United States, seeking a stay of enforcement of the order pending disposition of the case.

On May 6, the high court denied the plaintiffs’ application without comment.

Three stay-at-home orders set to expire tomorrow

Stay-at-home orders in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island are set to expire tomorrow. So far, 15 states that were previously under stay-at-home orders let those orders expire. Another seven states never implemented stay-at-home orders.

After these orders expire, the states with the next expiring orders are Arizona, Delaware, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, and Vermont on May 15.

Although the orders vary from state to state, they include at least two common elements: the closure or curtailment of nonessential businesses in the state and requiring all residents to stay home except for essential trips for supplies or outdoor exercise.

U.S. Supreme Court to hear cases via teleconference

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in five cases on May 4, 5, and 6. The court announced new procedures for conducting oral arguments via conference call. The cases had been previously postponed in March and April. The Court will use a teleconferencing system to hear oral arguments. Several new procedures were announced, including rules for which justices will ask questions based on seniority.

1. United States Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com B.V., a case concerning trademark law, originated from the 4th Circuit and will be argued on May 4.

  • The case: The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) denied Booking.com‘s four applications to trademark the name Booking.com. The USPTO said the name was generic and not a protectable mark. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board upheld the USPTO’s decision.
    • On further appeal, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ordered the USPTO to accept two of Booking.com’s trademark applications, and remanded the case for further proceedings on the remaining two applications. The USPTO filed a motion to remand all four trademark applications and to require Booking.com to pay the USPTO’s attorneys’ fees.
    • The district court denied the motion to remand all four applications, but accepted the motion to pay attorneys’ fees. Both Booking.com and the USPTO appealed the district court’s ruling. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision. The USPTO petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.
  • The issue: “Whether the addition by an online business of a generic top-level domain (“.com”) to an otherwise generic term can create a protectable trademark.”

2. USAID v. Alliance for Open Society International, a case concerning the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003, originated in the 2nd Circuit and will be argued on May 5.

  • The case: The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provides federal funds to U.S.-based organizations like the Alliance for Open Society International, Inc. (AOSI). The United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003 barred AOSI from receiving the funds unless they adopted “a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking,” known as the policy requirement.
    • In 2005, AOSI sought to prohibit the policy requirement’s enforcement, which the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and subsequently the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. SCOTUS upheld these decisions in Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc. (2013), holding the policy requirement violated the 1st Amendment.
    • AOSI challenged the government’s interpretation of the Supreme Court’s opinion and obtained a permanent injunction in the Southern District of New York. USAID petitioned the Supreme Court, asking if its 2013 decision applied to “legally distinct foreign entities operating overseas that are affiliated with” U.S.-based organizations like AOSI.
  • The issue: “Whether—considering SCOTUS’ 2013 decision in Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International Inc., in which the court held the First Amendment bars enforcement of Congress’ policy requirement—the First Amendment further bars enforcement of that requirement with respect to legally distinct foreign entities operating overseas that are affiliated with U.S.-based organizations that receive federal funds to fight HIV/AIDS abroad.”

3. Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania (consolidated with Trump v. Pennsylvania) concerns the legality of agency rules providing a religious or moral exemption to the contraception mandate created under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It originated in the 3rd Circuit and will be heard on May 6.

  • The case: After several years of litigation, including two U.S. Supreme Court decisions, surrounding regulatory accommodations for religious and moral objections to contraception under the ACA, the Trump administration issued regulations allowing for exceptions to the federal contraceptive mandate.
    • The 3rd Circuit upheld a nationwide injunction that kept the rules from going into effect holding that the states challenging the rules were likely to succeed in proving that the Trump administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), that the ACA did not allow the regulations, and that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) did not require them.
  • The issues:
    • “(1) Whether a litigant who is directly protected by an administrative rule and has been allowed to intervene to defend it lacks standing to appeal a decision invalidating the rule if the litigant is also protected by an injunction from a different court?
    • (2) Whether the federal government lawfully exempted religious objectors from the regulatory requirement to provide health plans that include contraceptive coverage?”

4. Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants Inc., a case concerning the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), originated in the 4th Circuit and will be heard on May 6.

  • The case: In May 2016, the American Association of Political Consultants, Inc. and three other plaintiffs initiated litigation in district court, claiming that one of the statutory exemptions to the TCPA violated the free speech clause of the 1st Amendment. The exemption—otherwise known as the government-debt exception or debt-collection exemption—allows automated calls relating to collecting debts owed to or guaranteed by the federal government.
    • The plaintiffs and the U.S. Government each filed motions for summary judgment in the Eastern District of North Carolina. The court denied the motion for summary judgment by the plaintiffs and granted summary judgment to the U.S. Government. Concurrently, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ free speech clause challenge. On appeal, the 4th Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment in favor of the U.S. Government, directed the severance of the debt-collection exemption from the remainder of the automated call ban, and remanded the case for further proceedings.
  • The issue: “Whether the government-debt exception to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991’s automated-call restriction violates the First Amendment, and whether the proper remedy for any constitutional violation is to sever the exception from the remainder of the statute.”