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Judge was correct to strike down Gov. Wolf’s constitutional overreach

While many people — perhaps Gov. Tom Wolf most of all — may have been surprised by Monday’s ruling from U.S. District Judge William S. Stickman IV, we were not among them.

Stickman struck down most of the COVID-19 restrictions Wolf has left in place for several months as unconstitutional. That means, unless this ruling is overturned by a higher court or the governor is able to obtain a temporary injunction, restrictions on restaurant occupancy, gathering sizes, what businesses are and are not allowed to be open and basically everything but the mask-wearing requirement the governor has unilaterally enacted are now unenforceable.

We’ve been saying for months how we’ve felt Wolf has grossly overstepped his authority and exceeded the intended purpose of an emergency declaration. We’ve said if, not just Wolf, but any governor can use emergency powers endlessly without answering to anyone, that’s just asking for an abuse of power. We’re glad to see a judge has agreed.

Now, some may view this as akin to us advocating for pretending the public health crisis is over and immediately returning to the way it was in 2019 when very few of us had ever heard the word coronavirus. But that’s not it at all.

What we’ve wanted all along was for the governor to work with the General Assembly to come up with common-sense measures that can be taken to protect the public while not torpedoing the entire economy — such as wearing face coverings while around others. We want everyone’s interests to be heard, not just the governor’s. That’s how a representative government is supposed to work.

Unsurprisingly, Republican lawmakers were happy with the news.

“While we work to protect lives, we cannot disregard the civil liberties of Pennsylvanians,” said our own state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, who also serves as Majority Leader. “We hope that this ruling will signal to the governor that he must no longer spurn attempts by the General Assembly to provide input through legislation.

“We remain open and willing to work with Governor Wolf on a real plan to that puts Pennsylvania first. It is far past time for him to abandon his go-it-alone approach and come to the table to work with the General Assembly on real solutions.”

House Speaker Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, whose district includes a portion of Mifflin County, agreed.

“Judge Stickman’s opinion confirms what Pennsylvania Republicans have been saying all along; The Wolf Administration’s use of emergency authority is unconstitutionally overbroad,” he said.

“Given the nature of this opinion, we hope that Gov. Wolf will finally work with the General Assembly to develop a plan that keeps people safe, does not unconstitutionally penalize Pennsylvanians, and takes into account our geographical differences.”

Even though it may have been understandable if they did, neither man is taking a victory lap. This isn’t a time worth celebrating. It’s a time for working together to find the right balance between protecting citizens’ physical health while still allowing people the freedom to make a living. The lawmakers seem to understand that. Perhaps now the governor now will, too.

As we have said, and the court has agreed, the Constitution doesn’t stop being the Constitution just because of what is happening in the world.

Rights that can be revoked because an elected official has declared as much aren’t rights, but temporary privileges — and the first 10 amendments aren’t called “The Bill of Temporary Privileges.”

It is our hope Monday’s news isn’t too little, too late for those who have struggled to make ends meet due to Wolf’s unconstitutional power grab.

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