Judge rules Pennsylvania COVID-19 restrictions unconstitutional

"The Constitution cannot accept the concept of a 'new normal' where the basic liberties of the people can be subordinated to open-ended emergency mitigation measures," the judge wrote.

Updated: September 15, 2020 - 12:33pm

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A federal judge on Monday ruled that coronavirus restrictions imposed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's administration are unconstitutional, a decision that the governor's administration has said it will challenge.

U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV wrote that Gov. Wolf's attempts to stem COVID-19's spread "were undertaken with the good intention of addressing a public health emergency. But even in an emergency, the authority of government is not unfettered."

"The Constitution cannot accept the concept of a 'new normal' where the basic liberties of the people can be subordinated to open-ended emergency mitigation measures," the judge wrote, according to the Associated Press.

The governor already had relaxed many of the rules contested in the suit, permitting companies to reopen, and ending a stay-at-home order, but the judge pointed out in the decision that the government had simply suspended the restrictions and could institute them again.

Capacity limitations have been imposed as economic activity revives, but the plaintiffs' suit did not contest those occupancy limits, and the decision will not affect such orders. The suit did not contest a state mask mandate.

"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," Wolf spokesperson Lyndsay Kensinger said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. "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." 

The government will pursue delayed enforcement of the judge's decision during appeal.

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