By Donovan Levine
On Tuesday, Sept. 15, Governor Tom Wolf responded to the recent federal court ruling regarding the business closure and stay-at-home orders his administration issued in March, which were later suspended, as well as the 25-person indoor and 250-person outdoor gathering limitations, as stated in a press release from the Pennsylvania government’s official website.
Wolf’s statement was in response to the decision issued by U.S. District Judge William S. Stickman IV, which ruled Wolf’s initial pandemic response issued in March that shut down the state and closed businesses as “unconstitutional”.
Wolf’s swift action came amid a crucial time in the nation, and ultimately helped mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in a legal and logical manner.
Stickman, however, believed the orders given by Wolf and Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine were in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, which ensure freedom of assembly and equal protection, respectively.
Stickman said that he understood the good intentions of the effort to stop the spread of coronavirus, but also added “even in an emergency, the authority of government is not unfettered.”
Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., three other state representatives, the Pa. counties of Butler, Fayette, Greene and Washington and seven business owners challenged the state government’s coronavirus orders, as reported by The Hill. Their lawsuit was filed in May, when these counties were in the red phase that required residents to stay at home.
Protests also followed soon after the lawsuits were filed, as people crowded the Capitol Complex in Harrisburg.
Wolf, however, firmly stood by his decisions in his Sept. 15 statement. Wolf said there was no sense in debating a ruling that will be appealed, but insisted what’s not up for debate is that his administration’s early and decisive action saved lives.
“While the federal government dithered, Pennsylvania took action,” Wolf said. “Our hospitals were never overwhelmed and research tells us thousands of lives were saved.”
Wolf’s comments referred to an article published by the Philadelphia Inquirer in which health professionals praised Wolf’s response and amiably backed his decision-making with research which showed the government lockdown prevented as many as 60 million infections.
Their research showed the lockdown sufficiently isolated the virus’ spread so that hospitals did not get overwhelmed, as such were the situations in New York and Italy during the early stages of the pandemic.
Beyond that, with flu season and students returning to school this September, stay-at-home orders and gathering limitations are of smart, legal precedent.
The Philadelphia Inquirer article also cites the ABA which had listed the legal countermeasures toward fighting COVID-19 with 200 years worth of Supreme Court cases as well as the Tenth Amendment, which gives states all powers not specifically given to the federal government and gives them the authority to take public health emergency actions, such as setting quarantines and business restrictions.
While Wolf’s response may not have been perfect nor convenient, it was very much constitutional and well within the bounds of legal authority.
“So would we, in hindsight, do some things differently? Of course. Would I follow the irresponsible demands of the President or the Republican legislature? Absolutely not,” Wolf stated.