Shutdown restrictions ordered by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus were unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Monday – a decision that was quickly celebrated by President Donald Trump, who said he hopes the decision is followed by similar pronouncements in other states.
The state’s limits on gatherings and closure of nonessential businesses violated the First Amendment and the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment, according to a 66-page opinion by U.S. District Judge William Stickman, a Trump appointee. The governor’s office confirmed that sit will appeal the decision.
The case stemmed from a complaint filed in May by four Pennsylvania counties – Butler, Fayette, Greene and Washington – that argued against the state’s orders to close “non-life-sustaining” businesses and limit gatherings to 25 people indoors or 250 people outdoors.
Stickman said “open-ended” measures imposed on people with no known end are an overreaching violation of constitutional rights.
“The court believes that defendants undertook their actions in a well-intentioned effort to protect Pennsylvanians from the virus,” the ruling said. “However, good intentions toward a laudable end are not alone enough to uphold governmental action against a constitutional challenge.”
Within hours after the decision was filed, Trump retweeted about two dozen posts about the blow to the Democratic governor’s oversight of his state. In one posts, seniors wag their fingers and peel off their face coverings to beat of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
“PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR TOM WOLF AN YOUR STUPID WIFE …..YOUR NOT GOING TO MURDER US !!! TRUMP 2020 . . . WE LOVE PENNSYLVANIA,” the caption read.
At a “Latinos for Trump” roundtable Monday night, the president claimed, without evidence, that states will open everything on Nov. 4, and said he hopes other judges will strike down coronavirus mandates.
“We hope that’s going to happen in North Carolina,” he said. “We hope it’s going to happen in Michigan, too, because it’s just totally shut down.”
Trump has repeatedly criticized Democratic governors for shutting down their state’s economies in efforts to curb the spread of the virus.
Wolf will seek a stay of decision and file an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, his spokesperson Lyndsay Kensinger wrote in a statement to The Washington Post.
“The actions taken by the administration were mirrored by governors across the country and saved, and continue to save lives in the absence of federal action,” Kensinger wrote. “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.”
Kensinger said the ruling would not affect current restrictions, with many already lifted as the state has partially reopened.
The judicial decision comes as new infections reported in Pennsylvania have leveled. The state’s seven-day average for daily cases was 743. Pennsylvania has totaled 145,063 reported infections since the start of the pandemic.
The state has among the lowest infections per capita in the nation.
The majority of Pennsylvania voters surveyed, 62%, said the governor has done a good job handling the pandemic, according to a Monmouth University poll in August. In contrast, 53% of the voters disapproved of how Trump has responded to the crisis.
White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx praised Wolf in a Sept. 3 press briefing in Harrisburg, saying his state was making “great progress.”
Conservatives have challenged Democratic state leaders’ handling of the pandemic, bringing legal cases against restrictions that limit individual freedoms.
In Michigan, the state’s appeals court ruled in August for Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, denying Republican lawmakers’ challenge of her emergency declarations.