Federal Court Declares That Certain Pennsylvania Covid-19 Restrictions Unconstitutional
September 14, 2020
By: Michael P. Leahey, Jason L. Ott, and Derrick L. Maultsby Jr.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has set forth restrictions across the state to stop the spread of the virus. However, not everyone has believed these restrictions were appropriate or lawful. The restrictions at issue which include a stay at home order, public gathering limits, and ordering non-life sustaining businesses to shut down were challenged in the Western District of Pennsylvania on constitutional grounds by counties, political officials, and businesses from across Pennsylvania. On September 14th, the court stated that the restrictions set forth by Governor Wolf were unconstitutional.
In his opinion, U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV opined that the restrictions mandated by the Governor and the Pennsylvania Department of Health are a violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of assembly and the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment. The court acknowledged that the restrictions were adopted with good intentions, but ultimately stated that even in an emergency situation the power of the government is limited. However, this decision only applies to the specific restrictions mentioned above. Which means that other mitigation efforts such as the occupancy restrictions for bars and restaurants are still in effect.
A spokeswoman for Governor Wolf has stated that the Governor will appeal this decision. In addition, the Governor will seek a stay of the decision while the appeal process is underway. Here at Jackson Kelly, we have regularly advised clients on how to comply with COVID-19 orders. If you have questions about what this court decision means for the current landscape of restrictions, please feel free to reach out any time and we would be happy to do anything we can to help.