Sept. 15 (UPI) — A federal judge has ruled that Pennsylvania Gov. Tim Wolf’s shutdown orders to slow the spread of the coronavirus were unconstitutional.
Judge William Stickman IV of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania ruled Monday that the governor’s order to limit the number of people at gatherings violated the First Amendment right to assembly and his order closing “non-life sustaining” businesses and requiring residents to stay home violated due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.
“The court believes that Defendants undertook their actions in a well-intentioned effort to protect Pennsylvanians from the virus,” Stickman, a President Donald Trump appointee, wrote in his 66-page opinion. “However, good intentions toward a laudable end are not alone enough to uphold governmental action against a constitutional challenge.”
Trump cheered the ruling on Twitter as “Great News.”
“Congratulations, Pennsylvania,” he wrote.
Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokeswoman for the governor, said they will seek a stay against the ruling as they file an appeal.
“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,” she said in a statement. “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 explained the ruling does not affect other orders issued in July concerning mandatory telework, mask-wearing and others.
The ruling comes in response to a complaint filed on May 7 by the counties of Butler, Fayette, Greene and Washington and several Republican lawmakers, arguing orders that have since been suspended for residents to stay home and for non-life-sustaining businesses to shutter violated the constitution as did his order, which is still in effect, to restrict indoor gatherings to no more than 25 people and outdoor gatherings to no more than 250.
Rep. Mike Kelly, a named plaintiff, said he joined the case because he believes that one’s rights still matter during a pandemic.
“The ruling affirms that our Constitution is not a suggestion,” he said on Facebook.
The state has more than 140,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and nearly 8,000 deaths, according to its department of health.