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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has ordered a response from Pennsylvania after businesses pushed back on shutdowns due to an executive order by Gov. Tom Wolf.
Alito wants to hear arguments to determine the constitutionality of Wolf’s order, issued last month in response to the coronavirus pandemic. A petition submitted by attorneys for a group of Pennsylvania businesses is seeking to temporarily block enforcement of the executive order but lower courts in the state refused to issue a stay despite their contention that the directive is doing “substantial, unprecedented damage to the economy.”
The petitioners include the Friends of Danny DeVito, a committee formed to support a candidate who is not the famous actor but is seeking a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. DeVito’s staff has been unable to access his campaign headquarters due to the Democrat governor’s directive, but the incumbent who DeVito is challenging has been able to use her government offices.
The four Pennsylvania businesses, realtor Kathy Gregory; B&J Laundry; the Blueberry Hill Public Golf Course & Lounge; and Caledonia Land Company, joined the petition seeking to block Wolf’s Executive Order closing all businesses deemed to be non-life-sustaining.
Wolf’s March order “compell[ed] the closure of the physical operations of all businesses and entities that he deemed to be nonlife-sustaining,” the petitioners argued.
Law & Crime reported:
A waiver process, the petitioners argued, did them no justice. It resulted in 42,380 applications and resulted in 7,837 approvals, 18,746 rejections, and 14,471 applications which didn’t even need to be made because the business which applied was already allowed to operate, they said. The rest of the applications remained being processed, and the state shut down the process for new applications on April 3rd.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court would not block the governor’s order which the challengers argued was a violation of their constitutional right, under the 5th and 14th Amendments, not to have their property taken without due process of law. Their rights to judicial review, equal protection, free speech, and free assembly were also allegedly violated by the order.
The lower state court had ruled that the governor had the authority to enact emergency orders during a pandemic and that his decision to order the closure of businesses is a “policy choice” as long “as the means chosen to meet the emergency are reasonably necessary for the purpose of combating the ravages of COVID-19.”
“The choice made by the [governor and officials were] tailored to the nature of the emergency and utilized a recognized tool, business closures, to enforce social distancing to mitigate and suppress the continued spread of COVID-19,” the state high court argued.
“Faced with protecting the health and lives of 12.8 million Pennsylvania citizens, we find that the impact of the closure of these businesses caused by the exercise of police power is not unduly oppressive. The protection of the lives and health of millions of Pennsylvania residents is the sine qua non of a proper exercise of police power,” the court added.
But the petition to the U.S. Supreme Court argued that the challengers “and tens of thousands of other businesses may not be able to recover from the severe financial distress caused by” the governor’s executive order.
Pennsylvania has been ordered by Alito to respond to the petitioners’ complaint by May 4.
There are reportedly now 44,366 cases of coronavirus in Pennsylvania, an increase of 1,102 from the previous day, and 2,195 confirmed deaths, according to The Pennsylvania Department of Health, WGAL reported. Wolf’s reopening plan for the state includes several criteria, including that there be fewer than 50 new positive cases for every 100,000 residents for two weeks.
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