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Wolf's COVID-19 orders unconstitutional, judge says


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Your Postmaster: Jordan Wolman
September 15, 2020
Gov. Tom Wolf's COVID-19 mandates ruled unconstitutional, Lancaster erupts, a surge in teacher retirements, and the hardest working goats in Pennsylvania. Keep going. It's Tuesday.
A federal judge on Monday ruled that key components of Gov. Tom Wolf's COVID-19 mitigation strategy are “unconstitutional,” including an order limiting how many Pennsylvanians can gather in one place.

U.S. District Judge William S. Stickman IV found that a policy limiting indoor and outdoor gatherings and events to 25 and 250 people, respectively, violates “the right of assembly enshrined in the First Amendment.” Also unconstitutional are Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine’s stay-at-home and business closure orders, which have since been lifted.

A spokesperson for Wolf stressed that the decision is limited to those orders, and doesn't apply to others in effect like one mandating most people wear masks in public. Also intact is an order limiting the indoor capacity of bars and restaurants to 50%. 

THE CONTEXT: This isn't the first time Wolf and his administration have been challenged in court during the pandemic, and they had previously been on a winning streak. Just two weeks ago, a federal judge in Philadelphia considering a similar complaint ruled in favor of the governor's orders. 

The Wolf administration plans to appeal the latest setback, and is seeking a stay to temporarily block the decision. According to some legal experts, the odds may be in Wolf's favor. 

Julian Davis Mortenson, a law professor at the University of Michigan, pointed out that Stickman justified part of his ruling by citing a U.S. Supreme Court case that has been condemned by many scholars and judges. That includes Chief Justice John Roberts, who said in 2005, "You go to a case like the Lochner case, you can read that opinion today and it's quite clear that they're not interpreting the law, they're making the law."

Roberts, in a similar case seeking to block California’s restrictions on religious gatherings, wrote earlier this year that government officials should be granted wide latitude to act in areas “fraught with medical and scientific uncertainties” and should not be “subject to second-guessing by the unelected federal judiciary.”

“Lebanon County walked out on that limb and Wolf sawed it off behind us. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so awful.”

— An anonymous business owner on Lebanon County's decision to go against the Wolf administration and lift COVID-19 restrictions. That decision led Wolf to temporarily withhold federal relief money from the area, as PennLive recaps. 
POST IT: "Snuck into someone's field for the sunset only to find this lonesome flower hanging out by itself." Thank you @hurleyhurley for submitting this photo of Orefield. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.
A CALL FOR HELP: Protesters took to the streets in Lancaster after a police officer there fatally shot a man on Sunday afternoon, LNP | LancasterOnline reports. The sister of the 27-year-old man, Ricardo Munoz, said he had a mental illness and was "acting out." 

RETIREMENT CONCERNS: Pennsylvania saw an uptick in teacher retirements toward the end of the summer, most likely because of COVID-19 concerns, according to PennLive. The question now: Who will take their places? 

A DIFFERENT SURGE: Amazon will hire 600 new workers at its Lehigh Valley warehouses, citing a surge in online shopping, The Morning Call reports. At the peak of the pandemic, workers for the retail behemoth said their safety concerns were being ignored.  

THROWN OUT: During the June primary, Pennsylvania counties had to throw out nearly 20,000 mail-in ballots because they arrived after the deadline, according to the Tribune-Democrat. As the paper reports, "That’s close to half the number of votes that President Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by in the 2016 presidential election."

ANOTHER ROUND: The ongoing war between Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney William McSwain and Philadelphia's progressive prosecutor Larry Krasner heated up Monday. The Inquirer reports that McSwain will bring federal charges in two cases because he believes Krasner bungled violent offenders' prosecutions. 
DON'T JUDGE: If you're a native of Pennsylvania, or have lived here long enough, there's a good chance you've been introduced to scrapple. Me? I love the stuff. That's why I appreciate this Billy Penn guide to cooking a perfect slice.

IT'S A BIRD: Well, not a bird — more like 50,000 of them. That's how many were expected to travel across Pennsylvania last night during a mass migration event. Get a good picture? We'd love to see it

NO PARACHUTE NEEDED: You're going to see a lot of national reporters swooping into Pennsylvania and its swing counties in the coming weeks, offering an outsider's take on the state's political future. The alternative? A new project from lehighvalleylive.com and nj.com called "Swing County, Swing State," which will focus entirely on the importance of Northampton County from a local perspective.

IS THERE LIFE ON MARS VENUS? I am a space nerd, I admit it. So I was pretty excited to see this announcement: Scientists detected a gas in Venus' atmosphere that is also found on Earth and is believed to be important to life. And, if you need a new TV show to binge, check out Away on Netflix.

THE CUTEST LAWNMOWERS: In Pittsburgh's Frick Park, a team of goats and one donkey are hard at work clearing invasive plants. While it may be extremely tempting, the head of Allegheny GoatScape asks onlookers to refrain from touching the animals. You can, however, look at cute pictures.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out the winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Campaign

Congrats to yesterday's winners: Kathy W., Brandie K., Patricia M., Jenn C., Theodore W., Joel S., Bob S., Lynne E., Steve D., Kathleen M., Heidi G., Bruce B., Theresa T., Chris M., Claudia M., Laurie P., Elijah R., James H., Cory N., Tracey C., Thomas B., Jill A.S., Bruce F., Ann and John., Kelly K., Elizabeth P., Andrew S., Theresa O., David W., Karen W., Daniel G., Joan S., Bob M., John H., Joselyn S., and Beth T.
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