The Volokh Conspiracy

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Pennsylvania Voters Approve Restrictions on Governor's Emergency Powers

Disaster declarations can only last 21 days, instead of 90. A simple majority of lawmakers can terminate a disaster declaration.


In March, I wrote about proposed constitutional amendments in Pennsylvania that would restrict the Governor's emergency powers. Those amendments have now passed.

Pennsylvania voters have approved two ballot questions that would curtail the governor's emergency powers, a victory for Republican lawmakers in what was widely seen as a referendum on the Wolf administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Unofficial results show 54% of voters backed amending the state constitution to allow a simple majority of lawmakers to terminate a disaster declaration at any time. Currently, such a declaration can only be ended with the governor's consent or with support from two-thirds of the General Assembly.

Roughly the same percentage of voters also approved a proposal that limits a disaster declaration to 21 days, instead of 90, and transfers power to extend an emergency order from the governor to the legislature. The Associated Press projected Wednesday morning that voters had approved both measures, with 73% of the projected total votes counted.

More states should adopt these measures, and restore the balance of powers between the branches.

NEXT: Federal Race-/Sex-Based Restaurant Revitalization Fund Grants Blocked

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  1. >Pennsylvania's executive branch has a long and consistent history of following laws passed by Pennsylvania's voters

  2. Presumably violation would be grounds for impeachment

    1. In theory, doubtful in practice. 2020 taught us that remedies for executive overreach don't really exist. Neither do efficient venues for challenging same overreach.

    2. More credibly, violation would be grounds for courts to stop enforcing the executive's orders.

      1. ? Isn't it the other way around?

        1. No (though maybe I didn't express it well). Consider:
          Governor A announces a lockdown rule which violates the legislative limits.
          Business owner B flouts the rule.
          Police arrest (or fine) B.
          B argues that the rule is invalid because it exceeds the legislative limit.
          Court agrees with B and refuses to enforce the Governor's rule, possibly just for B, possibly for everyone.

  3. One tinpot dictator down; many to go.

  4. Wolf got sheered by the sheep for a change.

  5. A heavily gerrymandered legislature puts an initiative on an off-year May election to limit the power of the statewide elected executive and it barely wins.

    It's the like the general conservative GOP disdain for getting the consent of the people in concentrate form.

    1. If I stipulate that the amendments are motivated by politics, would you then proceed to discuss them on their own merits?

      1. My complaint isn't about it being 'motivated by politics.'

        As I've said before, many on the Right really, actually, just don't get or value democratic principles. It's like a color blind person trying to distinguish between certain colors.

        1. How does this situation illustrate your contention?

          Republicans put a couple propositions to voters - a majority of voters approved. Isn't this small-d democratic?

        2. As I’ve said before, many on the Right really, actually, just don’t get or value democratic principles.

          I'd truly love to hear you explain (not just cattily snipe at -- here I go dreaming) why allowing a majority of representatives to reasonably limit the power a single executive officer can exert outside the scope of circumstances envisioned by the legislature could reasonably be viewed as exemplifying anything but democratic principles.

    2. The people elected the legislators who drew the legislative districts. Criticizing the districts is inherently undemocratic. Why do you hate democracy?

      1. Leftists and woke neoliberals aren't serious about democracy and self determination. It's all bullshit. Democracy is only valid when woke corporate media is able to manufacture consent and effect a particular electoral outcome. Whenever this fails, it's "undemocratic". Stop interacting with these people as if they're serious or remotely intellectually honest. They aren't. They're barista untermensch who use lies and false appeals to process in order to perpetuate gynarchy. Disregard.

        1. "Disregard."

          He says, in his second reply to me...

          1. Truth hurts, queen. Either face the truth or prevaricate and cry more.

      2. Lol, 'the people elected Putin who then passed all those entrenchment laws. Criticizing the entrenchment laws is inherently undemocratic. Why do you hate democracy?'

        1. Hi, Queenie. You should check in as a non-lawyer user of the blog, below.

        2. My answer: I hate democracy because mob rule is the most abhorrent form of government. It's inherently unstable and exceedingly easy to manipulate since consent can be manufactured. It also depends heavily on leaders adopting whatever is popular. This desire to be liked favors the merchant class over the aristocrats and is a major driver of instability. This is why democracies are never among the most stable and successful civilizations in history — even Athenian democracy failed within a generation. On the other hand, aristocracies and monarchies are inherently prosperous and stable because their actions and right to rule are justified by their blood with popular opinion being ancillary. Hierarchy also leads to stability as it supports families and local identity while enabling the development of the artist and science castes. Even the merchant caste experiences success as the aristocratic soldier class protects their interests abroad.

          Now your turn... Why do you hate democracy? For example, suppose Alabama voted to ban abortion. Would you support that vote despite the vote being democratic? I have a feeling you wouldn't because democracy which can't be manipulated by the woke corporations you worship is detestable to you.

          1. would you support that vote given* same vote is* democratic?***

          2. One more point: democracy also gives the absolute dregs of society — the deranged, the infirm, the pervert, the prostitute, the vagabond, the barista — the same power as those with actual skin in the game. This is wrong.

            Anyway, question about your disdain for democracy still stands.

          3. "I hate democracy "

            I am Jack's complete lack of surprise.

            "Now your turn…"

            Nah, debating color coordinating with color blind folks is pretty unproductive.

            1. Are you the colorblind one here? Because I certainly see color... lol

    3. Elections have consequences. Go out and win some elections!

      1. When a consequence is to make get around future democracy those consequences are...less than optimal (but I get it, for those who don't understand or value democratic ideals, what's the problem? is gonna be the response).

  6. Unofficial results show 54% of voters backed amending the state constitution to allow a simple majority of lawmakers to terminate a disaster declaration at any time. Currently, such a declaration can only be ended with the governor's consent or with support from two-thirds of the General Assembly.

    The whole point of emergency powers is to allow the executive to respond quickly in an emergency. This is defined as there isn't enough time for a ponderous legislature to get to it.

    Once the legislature gets to it, it is no longer an emergency in that sense.

    Yes, I know. Politicians are corruptions first, wanting the job and the "perks" that come with it, and are happy to stand to the side and let someone else risk being lambasted at the next election if things go bad. Or even if they don't.

  7. The courts proved worthless. The epidemic of a weak cold virus was used to pretextually shut down the economy, to empower Democrats, and to enrich our oligarchs by $1.7 Trillion. I did great from the lockdown. Yet, I sued and failed to get it overturned. The rules allowed infected asymptomatic young people to travel to work. They provided intimate care to nursing home patients, and wiped them out.

    This election outcome is the last remedy possible. The lock down, not the virus, killed 100 million poor people by starvation, as the world GDP dropped by $4 trillion in 2020. This is the greatest mass murder, in the shortest time, in human history. The oligarchs of China scored $2 trillion. They did well, too.

    During the lockdown, I spoke to the police. They refused to stop people from traveling, and ignored the rules completely. That was outside the Democrat urban jurisdictions. Outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, their Democrat suburbs, there was zero support for Gov. Wolf. 50 miles from there, stores never enforced the mask rule. The tighter the lockdown, the higher the body count. Democrat voters suffered the most deaths, and it was from the lockdown.

  8. By comparison, Virginia's emergency powers are LAUGHABLY broad. Hey Republicans, you want to take back my state? Adopt sensible limits on executive powers. You will draw supporters from every corner except the far left.

    1. Virginia is home to the woke security state. Your state is run by Northern Virginia CIA BLM schoolmarms and therefore hopeless. You haven't had a free or fair election in 20 years.

      1. This might be the return of the guy who argued that only White male Christian landowners should be permitted to vote.

        Why does this blog attract so many of these guys?

        1. Whites are pretty much the only demographic who does vote, Art. Hate to break it to you but the "black vote" is a myth. In reality, the black vote is just a machine in the back room of ghetto precincts that prints prefilled ballots.

  9. I'm unclear whether this Pennsylvania process actually amended their constitution, or whether some super-majority ratification requirement (or other process requirement) may mean it falls short. Anyone know?

    1. It amended their constitution. (They have a multistep process. The legislature must first approve a proposed amendment twice, and then it gets put in the ballot for the voters.)

      1. Is it retroactive? Wolf's quack lockdown is over a year old, now.

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