As Pennsylvania edges out of its coronavirus lockdown, a federal judge Thursday refused to call even a temporary halt to Gov. Tom Wolf’s orders that have kept the state all but closed to business during the pandemic.
U.S. Middle District Judge John E. Jones III’s ruling marks an early defeat for a GOP state House candidate from Perry County and several business owners who filed suit claiming Wolf’s reaction to COVID-19 has been an unconstitutional economic disaster.
“It is not the place of this court to question the reasonable motives of elected officials, nor can we grant (the) petitioners’ motion based largely upon their political disagreements with the same,” Jones wrote. “This court will not micromanage public policy in the midst of a pandemic.”
The judge issued his decision rejecting the call for a temporary restraining order of Wolf’s restrictions a week after GOP candidate William Benner and his allies filed the case seeking to overturn the governor’s edicts that had closed businesses deemed not to be life-sustaining as a means of curbing the spread of the disease.
As of Thursday, there were 65,392 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania. At least 4,869 reported deaths from the virus were reported in the state.
Benner was joined in his suit by Kraig Nace, owner of Detailed Attention in Duncannon; Nichole Missino, owner of Giovanni’s Media Barber Shop in Media, John Williams, a Chadds Ford real estate agent; and Stephen Cassel, a partner in Iacobucci Formal Wear in Havertown.
Their move against the governor’s emergency business and school closure and stay-at-home orders, which took effect in March, comes as Republican politicians, business owners and others have called for the swift lifting of the restrictions, which they claim are unnecessarily strangling the livelihoods of Pennsylvanians. Similar protest have arisen in other states.
In refusing to interfere with Wolf’s edicts, Jones found the danger posed by COVID-19 “justified the governor’s quick action.” He concluded that under the circumstances the much-maligned waiver process developed for businesses seeking to remain open was legally adequate.
Jones rejected the opponents’ claims that Wolf overstepped the authority of his office and that the governor is interfering with free speech rights. The judge also discounted their contention that “COVID-19 is nothing more than a mild viral illness like the flu.”
Benner and his allies “are not public health experts and provide no evidence to substantiate these claims,” Jones wrote. “Indeed (their) arguments fly in the face of generally accepted principles regarding the nature of COVID-19 and its transmission.”
In short, the judge found that the financial harms Benner, his allies and Pennsylvanian in general face due to the lockdowns are outweighed by the need to protect the public’s health.
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