September 16, 2020 -- A federal judge ruled Monday that Pennsylvania’s pandemic restrictions were unconstitutional.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s office said it plans to appeal the ruling. Wolf implemented lockdown restrictions that required people to stay at home, close “non-life-sustaining” businesses and limit the size of group gatherings.
However, U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV said the policies were arbitrary and violated people’s constitutional rights. Stickman, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, backed the plaintiffs in the case, which included four counties, three state representatives and seven businesses — drive-in movie theaters, hair salons, a vendor at a farmer’s market and a horse trainer. They filed the lawsuit in May when stay-at-home orders were in place.
“Even in an emergency, the authority of government is not unfettered,” Stickman wrote in his opinion brief. “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.”
Wolf has since released many of the business restrictions listed in the lawsuit and lifted the statewide stay-at-home order, but Stickman said the administration could reimpose them in the future.
“It’s really 100% in our favor,” Thomas W. King III, the plaintiffs’ attorney, told The Associated Press.. “What it means is they can’t do it again, and they should not have done it in the past.”
Because of the ruling, restrictions that still are in place can’t be enforced, including limits on the size of gatherings, King told the AP. Pennsylvania had limited indoor groups to 25 people and outdoor groups to 250 people.
The ruling could set a precedent for other states. The governor’s office will request a delay in the new ruling while it pursues an appeal. The state health secretary also asked residents to continue to follow social distancing guidelines and to avoid crowds.
“This decision is especially worrying as Pennsylvania and the rest of the country are likely to face a challenging time with the possible resurgence of COVID-19 and the flu in the fall and winter,” Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, told the AP.