Coronavirus

Pennsylvania Lockdown Lawsuit Victory May Cure a Plague of Pandemic Restrictions

“The Constitution sets certain lines that may not be crossed, even in an emergency.”

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A federal judge's ruling that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's pandemic lockdown orders are unconstitutional offers hope not just to the beleaguered residents of that state, but to all Americans suffering under similar impositions. With public health-inspired restrictions weighing on civil liberties and the ability to make a living, pending lawsuits in many states may offer the best chance for restoring personal freedom and dragging the country out of its economic doldrums.

"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," wrote U.S. District Judge William S. Stickman IV in his September 14 decision, in a case brought by a coalition of cities, counties and businesses. "Rather, the Constitution sets certain lines that may not be crossed, even in an emergency. Actions taken by Defendants crossed those lines. It is the duty of the Court to declare those actions unconstitutional."

In particular, Stickman found that limits on gatherings run afoul of First Amendment protections for assembly rights, stay-at-home orders violate the substantive due process guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment, and arbitrary business closures violate the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

"The fact is that the lockdowns imposed across the United States in early 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are unprecedented in the history of our Commonwealth and our Country," the judge added. "They have never been used in response to any other disease in our history."

"There's no sense debating a ruling that will be appealed," Pennsylvania Governor Tom responded in a statement that pleads necessity while entirely side-stepping constitutional issues. "But what's not up for debate is that our early and decisive action saved lives."

Except that not just the constitutionality but the effectiveness of lockdowns is up for debate.

"Lockdowns, despite the huge costs they entailed, have not had any obvious payoff in terms of fewer COVID-19 deaths," Reason's Jacob Sullum noted this week after reviewing international examples and recent research. "It would not be the first time that people have exaggerated the potency of government action while ignoring everything else."

Like the cost to our freedom, the economic toll of the lockdowns is beyond dispute.

"In the wake of COVID-19 cases increasing and local restrictions continuing to change in many states we're seeing both permanent and temporary closures rise across the nation, with 60% of those closed businesses not reopening (97,966 permanently closed)," the review site Yelp revealed in its latest Local Economic Impact Report. Restaurants, bars, and nightlife venues considered "non-essential" and widely subject to the toughest restrictions are especially hard-hit.

"The ongoing public health crisis will continue to weigh on economic activity, employment, and inflation in the near term, and poses considerable risks to the economic outlook over the medium term," the Federal Reserve noted September 16.

The next day, the Department of Labor reported 860,000 initial unemployment claims for the week ending September 12. While that's much improved from the record numbers reached during the early days of pandemic fears and lockdowns, it's still brutal. "There were 173,134 initial claims in the comparable week in 2019," the department revealed.

Undoubtedly, some businesses would have folded and jobs would have been lost anyway in the absence of mandatory closures, as people chose to stay at home and minimize their risk of exposure. But it's unlikely that the economic damage of voluntary actions would have been as wide-reaching or as lingering as it has been from government orders enforced by administrative penalties, fines, and arrests. And, while the specifics of lockdown orders have varied from place to place, many U.S. states have imposed such penalties to enforce restrictions that Judge Stickman points out are "unprecedented."

"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," insists Wolf's spokesperson, Lyndsay Kensinger.

Also mirrored across the country are lawsuits against those lockdowns.

Last week, Michigan's Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a lawsuit over the constitutionality of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's notoriously intrusive and arbitrary lockdown orders. The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation argues that Whitmer "unconstitutionally gave herself unprecedented unilateral power to extend her own state of emergency, a move that was harmful to Michiganders across the state."

Other state officials face similar lawsuits of their own. And while some of the worst restrictions have since been lifted, that was the case in Pennsylvania, too. Judge Stickman moved forward with his decision anyway because relief was at the whim of the governor and "citizens remain subject to the re-imposition of the most severe provisions at any time."

Still, some lockdown orders have survived challenges in federal and state courts. It remains to be seen whether the courts will continue down the path of deference to boundless claims of government authority in times of crisis, or will adopt Judge Stickman's argument that "the Constitution sets certain lines that may not be crossed, even in an emergency."

The stakes are high with COVID-19 threatening to become a long-term addition to human life and some public health types insisting that pandemic restrictions should also be a semi-permanent fixture.

"It is completely understandable that many are tiring of restrictions due to Covid-19. Unfortunately, their resolve is weakening right when we need it to harden," Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, wrote September 15 in The New York Times. "It is much more likely that life in 2021, especially in the first half of the year, will need to look much like life does now," he added.

So, keep your eyes on the courts. Depending on which way they jump, we'll either find ourselves living in a world of liberties protected by constitutional lines that government can't cross, or one of open-ended emergency powers extended at the pleasure of political officials.

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84 responses to “Pennsylvania Lockdown Lawsuit Victory May Cure a Plague of Pandemic Restrictions

  1. It is much more likely that life in 2021, especially in the first half of the year, will need to look much like life does now,”
    I think not.

    1. “Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, wrote September 15 in The New York Times.”

      A liberal professor wrote something in the liberal NYT? Shut the front door!

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    2. He is merely forecasting Trump’s re-election!

        1. (Grabs popcorn)

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  2. An encouraging thing if the PA case is appealed is that the lockdown orders in that case were egregiously constitutionally invalid on multiple levels. It violates both substantive and procedural due process, severely limits protected rights without any attempt to minimize restrictions, arbitrarily discriminates, and so on. And they were extreme violations to boot. If the PA governor appeals it and loses, it will become binding legal precedent in the Third Circuit and influential in other circuits.

    Since the violations are so bad on many levels, it is likely the appellate court would uphold the judgment, but based only on a particularly nasty procedural due process violation. For example, the body drafting the lockdown orders is apparently a secret cabal with absolutely no accountability. The circuit court could limit its ruling just to that issue and set no precedent for the more important substantive due process question of whether a state has the right to lock its citizens down at all.

    Fingers crossed.

    1. “Rather, the Constitution sets certain lines that may not be crossed, even in an emergency.”

      That does not sound like a man who accepts that the lockdown was within the realm of government authority, even for a limited duration. Lets hope this is the case.

  3. While Stickman is absolutely correct I fear he is an outlier. The political class has had an unprecedented taste of tyrannical power and they are loving it. I’m not hopeful that the courts will reign them in because, as Roberts explained, it is not their job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.

    1. It’s only in a few Democratic states. We’ve been open the whole time. We never had a state lockdown and city lockdowns have only been for indoor dining.

      1. A few states where the majority of Americans live.

        1. Screw them.

      2. A few democratic states… like Texas. Nah, Republican states are fucked too you’re full of shit.

        1. Texas is opening to 75% next week. What’s NY at?

          1. A 75% mortality rate.

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            2. 100% dictatorial rate.

  4. I’m more afraid of losing liberty and the pursuit of happiness than I am of catching……………well, whatever this is!

    1. I’m with you. Unfortunately for us, most of our countrymen love the taste of boot. Especially if they get to force it down everyone else’s throats too.

    2. It’s the common cold on steroids.

      1. No, actually steroids help.

    3. It’s a virus that you need to get tested to know if you have it.

      And pantshitting dicks like Aaron want life to end because he’s a twat. Stay home Aaron. All of you had your 15 minutes of kicking the can. Now fuck off.

  5. Except that not just the constitutionality but the effectiveness of lockdowns is up for debate.

    GASP!

  6. Lockdowns:

    If the deaths are low prove they work and we need to keep them.

    If the deaths are high prove we need them, and more of them.

    1. Lose lose!!

    2. I’m selling a secret recipe tiger repellent. $100/can.

      Does it work?

      Of course it works, there are no tigers in my back yard.

      1. I will buy your Tiger repellent, but only if it comes in rock form.

    3. Yup. Look. It’s working with the flu too.
      Let’s keep it going all the time.
      https://news.yahoo.com/measures-to-control-coronavirus-have-brought-flu-infections-to-historic-lows-scientists-want-to-keep-it-that-way-182216307.html

      What’s comical is Redfield’s mask wearing protocol in the picture goes against the recommendations. Scary, man.

    4. No. The way cases and deaths are being counted are skewed to fit the agenda. A friend’s son was killed in a motorcycle accident in July. I was shown the Death Certificate. The Cause was Head Trauma with COVID. How many more are there like that?

  7. I’m so sick we’re acting like a few Democratic states are the entire country. We never had a state lockdown. We’ve been open since April and haven’t hit 1,000 deaths in a state of 4 million. The average age of those is 80. I don’t wear a mask and no one says anything. This whole thing is a farce on the grandest of scales.

    1. So you don’t live in Michigan.

  8. So it turns out the Constitution was a suicide pact after all.

    1. Allowing open ended indefinate emergency measures that do things not normally allowed under the constitution would be the suicide pact.

      1. It’s certainly led to a very high number of suicides.

  9. “But what’s not up for debate is that our early and decisive action saved lives.”

    Prove it! I saw this same shit in Michigan. Some Witcher fans posting signs that “our Governor saved lives” nonsense. How does restricting Home Depot from selling garden supplies save anybody’s life? Or any of her other ridiculous, non-factual rules?

    While I disagree with most of the lockdown rules, some of the Dems states went full retard. Even early on we knew this primarily affected old people and people with specific medical issues. Wouldn’t it make more sense to ask these folks to quarantine themselves and let everybody else enjoy their God given Liberty?

    1. Miichigan: The Gretch that Stole Summer

      1. Quick, get a bunch of Hoos together to sing Christmas Carols so her heart will grow three sizes.

        1. You mean in a cardiac edema sort of way, right?

      2. I’m not sure if Michigan is going to force a recall on her, but I cannot wait to see her attempts to defend herself when she runs for re-election. She’d be smart to resign and take a position in the Biden administration.

        Of course, the GOP would need to nominate somebody that isn’t completely stupid, so, we’ll see.

        1. I think you meant the Harris Administration with Joe Biden.

      3. Arbitrary and capricious thy name is Whitmer.

    2. If a governor takes credit for saving lives by enforcing a lockdown, then shouldn’t that governor be blamed for all the flu deaths the past winters because he or she didn’t enforce a lockdown?

    3. The early interventions did SQUAT.

      1. No, they delayed many infections and deaths, without significantly impacting the number.

  10. “It is completely understandable that many are tiring of restrictions due to Covid-19. Unfortunately, their resolve is weakening right when we need it to harden,” Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, wrote September 15 in The New York Times. “It is much more likely that life in 2021, especially in the first half of the year, will need to look much like life does now,” he added.

    Because…. SCIENCE!!! Why do I care what a professor pediatrics thinks about COVID? Or anything posted in the NYT?

    Let me be clear – FUCK OFF SLAVERS!!! If you’re scare of COVID, isolate yourselve. Let the rest of us lives our lives.

    1. Professor OF pediatrics*

      Seriously Reason. I know you hate the commenters and we share that feeling towards you. But can you please upgrade the comment boards to allow an edit feature. It would also be nice if you highlighted new comments when we return to an article. Pretty please, fake Libertarians running Reason…

  11. “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,” wrote U.S. District Judge William S. Stickman IV in his September 14 decision, in a case brought by a coalition of cities, counties and businesses. “Rather, the Constitution sets certain lines that may not be crossed, even in an emergency. Actions taken by Defendants crossed those lines. It is the duty of the Court to declare those actions unconstitutional.”

    Nominated and confirmed in 2019; yay FEDSOC! We need another couple hundred of these

    1. Bravo!

    2. SCOTUS short list for this guy.

    3. There’s an opening.

    1. YES!

      Love Van Morrison. So happy he feels that way.

      /spins Caravan.

  12. “It is completely understandable that many are tiring of restrictions due to Covid-19. Unfortunately, their resolve is weakening right when we need it to harden,” Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, wrote September 15 in The New York Times. “It is much more likely that life in 2021, especially in the first half of the year, will need to look much like life does now,” he added.”

    Sounds like this motherfucken cuck is threatening people.

    Fuck you asshole.

  13. OT:
    RBG kicks the bucket.

    1. The Rabbit the kicked the bucket, the bucket! Rabbit kicked the bucket, the bucket….

    2. When do lockdown restrictions go into effect for this?

      1. As soon as Newsom and Cuomo can come up with something CNN will swallow and report.

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  15. The tide might be turning in PA, and not just because of this ruling.

    Wolf caps outdoor event attendance at 250. But PA Health Secretary Levine secretly approved 20k/day attendance at the Carlisle Car Show in June — and nobody knew until discovery for the case before Stickman.

    Legislators of both parties are legitimately pissed at secret waivers for events in the Harrisburg area, but public restrictions everywhere else in the state.

    PA has since passed, with veto-proof margin, a bill allowing local schools to set their own attendance limits within distancing guidelines. Wolf has vowed to veto it.

    Meanwhile, Pennsylvanians are starting to flout the rules. For example, some high schools have decided that football games constitute 4 different events: one on the field, one in the press box, one in the home stands, and one in the visitors’ stands — each capped at 250 people. And they’re daring Wolf to stop them.

    Good.

    1. Wow. Wolf really sounds like a piece of shit.

      And someone needs to cull all these stories of politicians flouting their own rules. It’s DISGRACEFUL.

      Doug Ford in Ontario is acting like a real dictatorial dick. Rob was a crack head, but I wonder if Doug took in the fumes he’s so retarded.

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  18. Wow. Wolf really sounds like a piece of shit.

    And someone needs to cull all these stories of politicians flouting their own rules. It’s DISGRACEFUL.

    Doug Ford in Ontario is acting like a real dictatorial dick. Rob was a crack head, but I wonder if Doug took in the fumes he’s so retarded.
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  20. “Judge William S. Stickman IV”

    Hey! There’s a Supreme Court seat vacant.

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  22. It doesn’t matter whether the lockdown mandates were Constitutional or not because the planned for damage to life was accomplished.

    This was exactly what the Marxists/Communists/Progressives, population controllers, anti-capitalist, power lust and all of their useful idiots needed-a crisis that could not be wasted to advance their agenda at transforming the world into their hoped for utopia.

    It was also a test to see how easy it would be to manipulate data and use it to put fear of severe health risks and death into the mind so that people would willingly give up freedom for safety.

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  27. I’m willing to bet MAGA masks completely do away with compulsory mask-wearing.

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