Before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia on Thursday, legal counsel for several Pennsylvania counties, as well as numerous public officials and private companies argued Governor Tom Wolf (D) abused his police powers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Specifically, the private-sector complainants charge that the governor’s shutdown of and other demands on businesses during parts of 2020 and 2021 violate the takings clause and the due-process clause of the U.S. Constitution. All plaintiffs, governmental and private, further insist that the governor’s restrictions on public gatherings over the past year violated the rights of assembly, association, and religion secured by the First Amendment.
“We are proud to have stood before the Court today defending the Constitution and the constitutional rights of all Americans,” Thomas W. King, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.
Litigants— which include the counties of Butler, Fayette, Greene, and Washington, as well as State Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-Cranberry) and companies such as Double Image Styling Salon and Marigold Farm — originally presented the case a year ago before the U.S. Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Those proceedings resulted in Judge William S. Stickman IV ruling decisively for the complainants last September.
“Even in an emergency, the authority of government is not unfettered,” Stickman’s opinion read. “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 Wolf administration appealed Stickman’s ruling, bringing the matter before the Third Circuit.
In arguing their case against Wolf, complainants received vocal support from the Amistad Project, a nonprofit formed in 2018 to organize Americans at the grassroots level and undertake investigations primarily supporting legal efforts for election security. Phill Kline, the project’s director, said Wolf’s COVID countermeasures “mirrored those of other blue state executives who used emergency orders combined with the acceptance of hundreds of millions of dollars of [Mark] Zuckerberg monies to weaken election security, undermine election integrity, and subvert the constitutional authority of the legislative and judicial branches of government.”
The Amistad Project has focused especially on progressive elected officials’ utilization of public-private partnerships in the electoral process in ways that Amistad maintains unfairly advantage Democrats. One such instance of public-private cooperation was a $350 million donation from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, which helped fund the Chicago-based Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL). That organization reported disbursed grants to over 2,500 local authorities across the nation for purposes of election administration.
Of those grants, 22 were bestowed on Pennsylvania jurisdictions. Among those amounts were $10,016,074 for Philadelphia and $2,052,251 for Allegheny county, which includes Pittsburgh.
Nancy Gifford of Double Image Styling Salon made a statement characterizing the case now before the Third Circuit as “about protecting the rights of everyday Pennsylvanians and business owners across the state.”
Pennsylvania’s chief deputy attorney general, J. Bart DeLone, argued before the court that Judge Stickman’s decision is now moot. Circuit Judge Kent A. Jordan challenged that notion, suggesting that the current uptick in COVID infections could spur some officials to desire renewed restrictions.
“Cases are going up,” Jordan said. “Delta variant is on the loose.”
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