A judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania ruled Monday that Governor Tom Wolf’s closing of “non-life-sustaining” businesses and restrictions on gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic were unconstitutional.
Butler, Greene, Fayette and Washington counties sued the governor, claiming the shutdown orders were unconstitutional.
The court held that “(1) the congregate gathering limits imposed by the defendants’ mitigation orders violate the right of assembly enshrined in the First Amendment; (2) that the stay-at-home and business closure components of the defendants’ orders violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and (3) that the business closure components of the defendants’ orders violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Judge William Stickman IV wrote in his opinion:
There is no question that this country has faced, and will face, emergencies of every sort. But the solution to a national crisis can never be permitted to supersede the commitment to individual liberty that stands as the foundation of the American experiment. 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. Rather, the Constitution sets certain lines that may not be crossed, even in an emergency. Actions taken by defendants crossed those lines. It is the duty of the court to declare those actions unconstitutional.
An appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit is expected.