Ruling against Wolf influential

Monday’s ruling by a federal district judge that Gov. Tom Wolf’s pandemic restrictions are unconstitutional could have national implications, according to state Rep. Lou Schmitt, R-Altoona.

That is because the issue could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court, which could take up the case if a ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals causes a discrepancy between gubernatorial prerogatives during emergencies in the Third Circuit’s jurisdiction and their prerogatives other areas of the country, according to Schmitt, who is a lawyer.

The Supreme Court is likely to want to sort that out, if it happens, he suggested.

The case is clearly headed to the Third Circuit, because Wolf has said he will appeal.

Wolf’s defeat was emphatic, but it’s a change for the governor, who has been heretofore successful in court cases, according to Schmitt.

Yet it would be premature for Republicans to cheer, he said.

“You don’t celebrate after the first quarter,” he said.

Judge William Stickman is an appointee of President Donald Trump, which suggests he may tend to favor Republican values, while there’s no guarantee the three-judge panel of the Third Circuit might see the case the same way, according to Schmitt.

Moreover, the Third Circuit is likely to place a stay on the ruling — in which case Wolf’s restrictions would remain in place — and there is no deadline for the Third Circuit to rule, although it’s likely the case will be expedited, Schmitt said.

State Rep. Jim Gregory’s tone Tuesday was less celebratory than angry.

“What this judge’s decision did was deliver a message that the rights of Pennsylvanians have been trampled and, for some, trampled in a way that they will never recover from,” Gregory, R-Hollidaysburg, said in a news release.

Voters should be “outraged” about the governor, he added, referring to Wolf’s comments in a news conference Tuesday about returning to a “new normal,” Gregory wrote, saying Wolf’s attitude was “incredibly cavalier.”

There are things the administration should have done differently, Wolf conceded. But it’s “early and decisive action saved lives,” he said.

His orders for mask-wearing, mandatory telework, worker safety, building safety and hospital safety are all still in effect, and the judge’s order doesn’t mean “a blanket end to the administration’s protection and mitigation” requirements, according to a Department of Health news release Tuesday.

The judge struck down the restrictions named in the Republican lawsuit mainly because they were “arbitrary,” and Wolf didn’t support them with evidence — either when he imposed them or when he was defending the lawsuit, according to Schmitt.

Other governors have imposed similar restrictions, but they gathered the justifications beforehand, Schmitt said.

It’s clear that governors need to be able to act to impose restrictions in emergencies, Schmitt said.

“There has to be (one) sheriff in town,” he said. “You can’t have 253 sheriffs,” he added, referring to the number of members of the General Assembly.

Lawmakers as a body simply can’t “pivot” quickly enough in emergencies, he said.

“But the governor has to act legally, constitutionally and not arbitrarily,” he said. “(He) needs factual support.”


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