In a rare piece of good news in our increasingly conformist and authoritarian world, Judge William Stickman IV of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania ruled the state’s coronavirus restrictions unconstitutional. The restrictions, implemented by Governor Tom Wolf, forbade people from leaving their homes or gathering in groups and shut down all “non-life-sustaining” businesses. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit included hair salons, horse trainers, drive-in theaters, state legislators, and four Pennsylvania counties.
“Even in an emergency, the authority of government is not unfettered,” wrote Judge Stickman. “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. There is no question that this country has faced, and will face, emergencies of every sort. But the solution to a national crisis can never be permitted to supersede the commitment to individual liberty that stands as the foundation of the American experiment. 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.”
“The court found in all respects that the orders issued by the governor and the secretary of health were unconstitutional,” said Thomas King III, attorney for the plaintiffs, according to ABC6. “What it means is they can’t do it again, and they should not have done it in the past.”
“This ruling stands for the proposition that even in a pandemic, the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania do not forfeit their constitutionally protected rights,” Thomas Breth, another attorney for the plaintiffs, told WTAE.
“It actually brings tears to my eyes,” said Nichole Missino, owner of a barbershop that had been forcibly shut.
On the other hand, proponents of totalitarian policies that prioritize safety over individual rights were not pleased with the ruling.
“The actions taken by the administration were mirrored by governors across the country and saved, and continue to save lives,” said Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokesperson for the governor.
“Anything that limits our ability and the number of tools we have is a challenge to public health,” complained state health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.
News flash: the fact that many governors did something does not make it right. The fact that something saves lives does not make it right, either. And if respecting individual liberty is a challenge to public health, then so be it. Taking away people’s freedom of speech, privacy, movement, and association is not a tool that anyone should have.