For weeks, conservatives and Republicans have used memes, videos and pictures to mock Democrats demanding masks and social distancing, while supporting mass gathering for political events like George Floyd protests. Now that a judge has ruled in their favor, it’s no longer a laughing matter.
U.S. Judge William S. Stickman IV echoed some of those same arguments Tuesday when he denied a request from Gov. Wolf’s administration that, if granted, would have allowed his team to continue enforcing coronavirus restrictions such as placing caps on indoor and outdoor gatherings.
Those limits on gatherings are now unenforceable unless an appeals court reinstates them later. Other mandates like wearing a mask in public are still in effect.
Judge Stickman had already found many of the restrictions used by the Wolf administration as unconstitutional in a ruling last week celebrated by Republicans. The suit was filed by several counties, lawmakers and businesses mainly in the southwest portion of Pennsylvania.
However, Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed a request for a stay from the judge while the state appealed the ruling, meaning the state would still be able to impose most of its restrictions while the appeal worked its way through the higher courts for a more final decision.
But Stickman said the state had not met the burden of showing “irreparable harm” was likely if the stay was not granted.
After that, Stickman used several instances of the Wolf administration’s own actions to demonstrate why he believed its logic was flawed.
He drew particular aim that the administration had placed hard numeric caps on gatherings, such as 250 people on outdoor gatherings and 25 people on indoor gatherings, but also sometimes placed percentage caps that effectively allowed more than 250 people to be together.
Stickman said, “their actions actually show the opposite—that they do not believe that gatherings exceeding their numeric caps will necessarily cause such harm.”
“For example, to avoid litigation the in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, [the administration] entered a Confidential Settlement Agreement permitting a large event to take place in Carlisle, Cumberland County,” the judge wrote, referring to an auto show.
The administration “imposed an outdoor limitation on the event of ‘no more than 20,000 individuals, which is 50% of its capacity,” Stickman pointed out. “This is nearly 100 times the permissible outdoor gathering limit of 250.”
A spokeswoman for Gov. Wolf said the administration feels the ruling is out of line with other actions and judgements from around the country.
“The administration is disappointed with the decision and is filing an appeal,” Lyndsay Kensinger said. “The actions taken by the administration were mirrored by governors across the country and saved, and continue to save lives in the absence of federal action. This decision is especially worrying as Pennsylvania and the rest of the country are likely to face a challenging time with the possible resurgence of COVID-19 and the flu in the fall and winter.”
Republicans were again enthusiastic.
State Sen. Bob Mensch (R – Berks/Bucks) said the governor had been “consistently inconsistent,” and called the ruling good news.
“We just, in the last few minutes, were told this probably applies across the entire state,” Mensch told Delaware Valley Journal from the Senate floor. “There was a question because this judge is from the western part of the state, and this [federal] district does not extend all the way through the state. We weren’t sure, but we’ve been told that it’s pretty well determined that it applies across the state,” meaning the caps on gatherings is completely knocked down unless and until the appeals court overturns Stickman’s ruling.
When asked if the ruling will affect the Wolf administration’s actions going forward, Mensch said, “I think only marginally. I think the arrogance will continue.”
Some Delaware Valley Democrats said they would work with the administration to see how restrictions could be retooled.
“I’ll continue to urge the administration to reevaluate how they calculate venue capacity to consider sq. footage + other relevant factors,” Sen. Maria Collett, (D – Bucks/Montgomery) tweeted. “And I’ll continue to implore our federal partners to pass a new COVID relief bill with much-needed funds for our businesses + all PA’ns.”
Judge Stickman also faulted the governor for attending one of the protests in June over the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
“The photo of that protest does not indicate that social distancing requirements were honored or enforced,” which “undermine[s] their current argument that imminent and irreparable harm will occur absent their ability to impose numeric occupancy caps.”