Pennsylvania is no man’s kingdom

As America celebrates the anniversary of its independence today — the day the founders of this nation, after meeting in Pennsylvania, sent word that the colonies would no longer be subject to King George III’s or any other monarch’s rule — the Pennsylvania Supreme Court seems intent on returning the commonwealth to the days when its citizens were royal subjects.

On Wednesday, the court ruled that, because the General Assembly did not send the resolution it passed last month seeking to end Gov. Tom Wolf’s indefinite emergency declaration to Wolf so he could choose to sign it (which seemed less likely than being struck by lightning while standing on the surface of the moon while holding the winning Powerball ticket) or veto it, the resolution is a “legal nullty” — or in other words “not worth the paper it’s printed on.”

To be clear, the court basically ruled that because the General Assembly didn’t allow Wolf the chance to once again veto a resolution aimed at curtailing his self-appointed unilateral decision-making powers, the governor gets to keep said powers. That means in the court’s opinion, the only way a governor’s “emergency” dictatorial authority can be revoked by the legislature is if two-thirds of the members of each house think it should be.

That it takes the agreement of at least 34 senators and at least 136 representatives to override the whims of one person seems rather concerning to us and ought to be for anyone who believes in the founding American ideal of three “co-equal” branches of government — the very model used by the Pennsylvania constitution.

We can hear some of you now saying that Wolf’s actions were warranted by the fact that Pennsylvania has fared better than many of its neighboring states and plenty of others across the country regarding “flattening the curve” of COVID-19, although cases in the commonwealth are again on the rise.

We’re not here to argue about the existence of an emergency — in March, the pandemic’s arrival was exactly that. We’re not here to even argue about the effectiveness of Wolf’s decisions.

But even if Wolf made every decision perfectly (which he didn’t), we still don’t believe the governor ought to be able to unilaterally declare how long an emergency lasts while enjoying unchecked power during said emergency. If that’s not a conflict of interests, then there is no such thing.

It is our opinion that after a reasonable period of time — say 30 days — the legislature should be able to weigh in on whether an emergency still exists and if the governor should retain that level of authority or if the threat has passed.

In its simplest terms, our position is that the ends don’t justify the means of allowing a governor to declare an emergency, then do whatever he or she wants without one shred of legislative input for however long the governor believes the emergency status is necessary.

Setting this as precedent feels like offering a blueprint for future governors of either party to take advantage of for whatever they deem to be an “emergency” so long as both chambers of the legislature have less than a two-thirds majority from the rival party to stop him or her. And in the hyper-partisan world in which we live, that is precisely what it would take except in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

A chief executive having carte blanche to do whatever he or she wants whenever he or she wants without having to answer to anyone (Wolf is term limited and cannot seek reelection in 2022, so the voters don’t even get a say then) sounds more like a king or queen than an elected leader of a constitutional republic.

We are disappointed with the Pennsylvania high court’s ruling as it is an affront to some of America’s — and Pennsylvania’s — founding ideals, ideals that some of the very first Pennsylvanians were willing to fight and die for: that humanity is born with rights that do not come from and cannot be taken away by those who seek to rule us and that absolute power would inevitably corrupt absolutely no matter to whom that power would be granted.

We hope that as another Independence Day passes, the justices on the high court will take time to reflect on why the separation of powers enshrined in our commonwealth’s and in America’s constitutions exists in the first place.

It’s because America — and Pennsylvania — are no man’s (or woman’s) kingdom.


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