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State COVID restrictions ruled unconstitutional by judge

September 14, 2020 News Extra

A federal judge has ruled in favor of a Butler County-led lawsuit challenging Gov. Tom Wolf’s business shutdown and stay-at-home orders.

U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV agreed with the plaintiffs claim that Wolf’s business shutdown and stay-at-home orders violated certain constitutional rights.

The plaintiffs include Butler, Fayette, Greene and Washington counties, four Republican lawmakers and several small businesses in those counties.

Stickman’s order Monday states that Wolf’s use of the law to restrict movement and businesses over coronavirus concerns violated several rights.

Stickman found that Wolf’s restrictions on crowd sizes violated the right of assembly that is protected by the First Amendment. Stickman also found that Wolf’s stay-at-home-order and business closure mandate violated the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment.

And finally, he found that the business closure mandate violated the equal protection clause in the Fourteenth Amendment.

With that, Stickman entered a judgment in favor of the businesses and people who had sued Wolf.

He writes that he believes Wolf and state Secretary of Health Rachel Levine “undertook their actions in a well-intentioned effort to protect Pennsylvania from the virus. However, good intentions toward a laudable end are not alone enough to uphold governmental action against a constitutional challenge.”

Stickman writes that the government engaged in a dangerous strategy where rights were taken away.

“In an emergency, even a vigilant public may let down its guard over its constitutional liberties only to find that liberties, once relinquished, are hard to recoup and the restrictions ... may persist long after immediate danger has passed.”

In his decision, Strickman writes that he made the decision after reviewing the case along with the “numerous exhibits and witness testimony.”

This is a breaking news report — subscribe online or in print to read the full article in Tuesday's Butler Eagle.