Stories about Pennsylvania

Toomey announces he won’t run for re-election to U.S. Senate in 2022

On Oct. 5, U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) announced that he would not seek re-election to the U.S. Senate and would be retiring from Congress. Toomey also stated that he would not run for governor of Pennsylvania in 2022.

At a press conference, Toomey said, “I will not be running for reelection in 2022 and I will not be running for governor. I will serve out the remainder of my term for a little over two years that are left to the current term and after that my plan is to go back to the private sector.” While he said he had no specific plans, he said he looked forward to spending more time with his family.

Toomey was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, defeating Joe Sestak (D) 51% to 49% for the seat previously held by Arlen Specter (D). Toomey won re-election in 2016, defeating Katie McGinty (D) 48% to 47%. Prior to his time in the Senate, Toomey represented Pennsylvania’s 15th Congressional District from 1999 to 2005.

Republicans are currently in the majority in the U.S. Senate with 53 seats. Democrats hold 45 seats and two are held by independents who caucus with the Democratic Party.

Thirty-five Senate seats are up for election in 2020. If Republicans lose no more than two seats, they will retain control of the Senate. If Democrats win four or more seats, they will gain a majority. If Republicans lose exactly three seats, whichever party wins the presidential election will have the majority, as the vice president serves as president of the Senate.

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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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U.S. Senate confirms two U.S. District Court nominees

The U.S. Senate confirmed Christy Wiegand to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania and Brett Ludwig to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. The Western District of Pennsylvania and the Eastern District of Wisconsin are two of 94 U.S. District Courts. They are the general trial courts of the United States federal courts.

After Wiegand receives her federal judicial commission and takes her judicial oath, the court will have eight Republican-appointed judges and two Democrat-appointed judges. Wiegand will join seven other judges appointed by President Trump.

After Ludwig receives his judicial commission and takes his judicial oath, the court will have two Republican-appointed judges and two Democrat-appointed judges. Ludwig will be the first judge appointed by President Trump to join the court.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed 205 of President Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—two Supreme Court justices, 53 appellate court judges, 148 district court judges, and two U.S. Court of International Trade judges—since January 2017.

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Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice expresses misgivings about judicial deference

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice David N. Wecht on July 21 issued a concurring opinion in Crown Castle NG East LLC and Pennsylvania-CLE LLC v. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission expressing what they called “deep and broad misgivings” about the court’s practice of deferring to state agency interpretations of statutes and regulations.

The case challenged the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s (PUC) interpretation of a statute governing public utilities. The PUC argued that the court should defer to its statutory interpretation because of the subject matter’s highly technical nature. The court, however, refused to defer to the PUC’s interpretation because it found the statute in question to be clear and unambiguous.

“A court does not defer to an administrative agency’s interpretation of the plain meaning of an unambiguous statute because statutory interpretation is a question of law for the court,” wrote Justice Sallie Updike Mundy in the opinion.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Wecht expressed uncertainty about the court’s deference practices. Wecht pointed to the lack of clarity surrounding the court’s approach to deference, arguing that the court’s deference doctrines aren’t clearly distinguishable and have been, in their words, “thrown together over time.”

Ballotpedia tracks state approaches to judicial deference as part of The Administrative State Project. Since 2008, Wisconsin, Florida, Mississippi, Arizona, and Michigan have taken executive, judicial, or legislative action to limit or prohibit judicial deference to state agencies.

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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.)