A federal judge in Pennsylvania just issued a ruling on Monday that sided with counties that are fighting against the strict coronavirus lockdown rules put in place by Governor Tom Wolf (D).
In his 66-page opinion that was filed on Monday, U.S. District Judge William S. Stickman IV ruled that Wolf’s COVID lockdown measures violated the First Amendment right to freedom of assembly as well as the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment, according to Trib Live.
Thomas W. King III, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, celebrated the ruling as a “complete and total victory for the counties, businesses and the representatives.”
“You can’t order the entire population of Pennsylvania to stay at home,” he added.
The counties of Butler, Fayette, Greene, and Washington teamed up to file the lawsuit, which claimed that the restrictions ordered some businesses to close while other essential businesses were permitted to remain open, arguing that this violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
While Stickman said in the ruling that Wolf’s measures were “well-intentioned,”he added that “good intentions toward a laudable end are not alone enough to uphold governmental action against a constitutional challenge. Indeed, the greatest threats to our system of constitutional liberties may arise when the ends are laudable, and the intent is good — especially in a time of 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 that restrictions — while expedient in the face of an emergency situation — may persist long after immediate danger has passed,” the judge explained.
Stickman concluded that a policy limiting indoor and outdoor gatherings to 25 and 250 people violates “the right of assembly enshrined in the First Amendment.” He then declared that the state’s stay-at-home orders and business closures were unconstitutional. While use orders have already been lifted, the judge’s ruling will prevent them from being put in place again.
“There is no question that this country has faced, and will face, emergencies of every sort,” Stickman wrote. “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.”
He went on to declare that the Constitution “sets certain lines that may not be crossed, even in an emergency.”
“The fact is that the lockdowns imposed across the United States in early 2020 in response to the covid-19 pandemic are unprecedented in the history of our commonwealth and our country,” Judge Stickman said. “They have never been used in response to any other disease in our history. They were not recommendations made by the CDC.”
He highlighted the fact that the state’s government never defined what a “life-sustaining” business is and that the closure of nonessential businesses was unprecedented in the history of Pennsylvania.
“Never before has the government taken a direct action which shuttered so many businesses and sidelined so many employees and rendered their ability to operate, and to work, olely dependent on government discretion,” he said.
Stickman was nominated to the federal bench by President Donald Trump last year.