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Federal judge says COVID responses went too far to be constitutional; blasts 'new normal'

The Brillion News

HARRISBURG, Penn. - Federal district court Judge William Stickman IV ruled on Monday, September 14, that public health edicts issued by Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Wolf and his administration in response to the COVID-19 pandemic went too far and were unconstitutional.

They are similar to the orders issued by other goevrnors in other states.

Stickman's decision came after several counties, businesses and individuals sued Wolf and other state government officials.

Judge Stickman's decision did not go as far as several of the plaintiffs wanted. For example, he dismissed all the counties from the lawsuit, saying that counties are creations of the state and thus cannot sue the state.

He also said that state officials had a tough job when the pandemis emerged.

"[G]overnments, governors, and courts have grappled with how to balance the legitimate authority of public officials in a health emergency with the Constitutional rights of citizens," Stickman wrote.

The suit challenged two elements of the orders issued by the Wolf Administration: their restrictions on gatherings, and their orders closing "non-life-sustaining" businesses and ordering Pennsylvanians to stay at home.

Stickman ruled that both actions were unconstitutional.

His concluding remarks began by saying that Wolf and other government officials didn't act in bad faith but their actions "were undertaken with the good intention of addressing a public health emergency."

But he said no emergency gives any government unlimited powers.

"The liberties protected by the Constitution are not fair-weather freedoms - in place when times are good but able to be cast aside in times of trouble," he wrote.

Stickman said the country has faced health emergencies in the past and will again in the future.

"But the solution to a national crisis can never be permitted to supercede the commitment to individual liberty that stands as the foundation of the American experiment," he said. "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. Rather, the Constitution sets certain lines that may not be crossed, even in an emergency. Actions taken by the Defendants (i.e. Governor Wolf and his administration) crossed those lines. It is the duty of the Court to declare those actions unconstitutional."

~ Ed Byrne/BN from the original document, which is available at


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