Federal Ruling: Wolf Admin Not Above the Constitution


W. Pa. Counties Successfully Counter Wolf’s Shutdown Order 

Sept. 14, 2020, Harrisburg, Pa. — Today, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania ruled that Gov. Wolf’s business shutdown order (and waiver process) and stay-at-home order violated the U.S. Constitution. A spokesperson for the governor has announced that Wolf will appeal the decision. 

Commonwealth Foundation President and CEO Charles Mitchell issued the following statement in response to the ruling: 

Today, in reading Judge Stickman’s ruling, we were reminded that the liberties we enjoy thanks to the Constitution can prevail even amid the fog of fear caused by an emergency. 

In his ruling, the federal judge noted that Gov. Wolf and his administration were well-intentioned when they took emergency actions. From the beginning, my colleagues and I at the Commonwealth Foundation have believed this was true, while simultaneously making a vigorous argument that many of those actions were constitutionally unjustifiable and harmful to Pennsylvanians. 

It is disappointing to hear that Gov. Wolf will appeal the decision rather than respect the clear, decisive, and correct arguments made by the judge. The small business owners who have suffered, the millions out of work, and the communities wondering how they’ll recover deserve to know that the turmoil of this spring—caused by the administration’s shutdown orders—will not happen again. 

Notably, the Wolf administration argued that, according to the judge, all claims of constitutional violations against them were “doomed to fail” due to the extraordinary deference owed to them in responding to the health crisis. The judge rejected this claim, stating that such deference was “not appropriate.” The judge reasoned that the administration violated Pennsylvanians’ constitutional rights by maintaining broad restrictions on citizens beyond the initial, temporary intent; enforcing those restrictions arbitrarily; and intending to maintain the ability to re-enforce those restrictions in perpetuity. 

The ruling, while leaving in place Wolf’s disaster declaration, offered a declarative judgement that several of the actions taken by the administration were not legal, including: 

1. The arbitrary “life-sustaining” business shutdown list and waiver process. 

2. The unprecedented statewide stay-at-home order. 

3. The arbitrary and selectively enforced limitations on public gatherings. 


Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact Michael Torres at 850-619-2737 or [email protected] to schedule an interview.

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