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Judge rules Gov. Wolf’s shutdown orders unconstitutional

Gov. Tom Wolf

Gov. Tom Wolf
Gov. Tom Wolf

A federal judge has ruled that Covid-19 shutdown measures ordered by Gov. Tom Wolf are unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV, of the U.S. District Court in Western Pennsylvania, an appointee of President Trump, wrote that the Wolf administration's stay-at-home orders and on the operation of "non-essential" businesses earlier this year violated the rights to freedom of assembly and the rights to due process and equal protection. Stickman said the same of the governor's limits on gatherings.

The opinion acknowledges the Wolf administration's "good intention" then adds, "But even in an emergency, the authority of government is not unfettered. ... 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."

The decision (PDF) comes in a lawsuit filed by seven business owners. The plaintiffs also included state Reps. Daryl Metcalfe, Marci Mustello and Tim Bonner; they had included four western Pennsylvania counties, but the judge dismissed them, saying they lacked standing.

Republican legislative leaders, who have fought tenaciously to limit the emergency authority of Wolf, a Democrat, applauded the ruling.

"The courts have validated what we have been saying all along," state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said.

The Wolf administration said it plans to appeal the decision.