What to Know
- A federal judge on Tuesday declined to stay his own ruling that Gov. Tom Wolf’s size limits on gatherings in Pennsylvania are unconstitutional.
- U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV said the administration had failed to show “imminent and irreparable harm will occur” if the state can’t limit event crowds to 25 people inside and 250 people outside.
- State officials had asked Stickman, an appointee of President Donald Trump, to delay enforcement of his ruling while they appeal.
A federal judge on Tuesday declined to stay his own ruling that Gov. Tom Wolf’s size limits on gatherings are unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV said the administration had failed to show “imminent and irreparable harm will occur” if the state can’t limit event crowds to 25 people inside and 250 people outside.
State officials had asked Stickman, an appointee of President Donald Trump, to delay enforcement of his ruling while they appeal.
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Stickman’s ruling invalidated key parts of the Wolf administration’s early response to the coronavirus pandemic, including his orders requiring people to stay at home and shuttering thousands of businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining.”
Wolf, a Democrat, has since eased many of the restrictions, but Stickman also ruled against the state’s current size limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, saying they violate citizens’ constitutional right to assemble.
"I think that right now, the court simply ruled that having the 250 max is not constitutionally correct," Wolf said at a news conference Tuesday. "And who knows what the right number is? All I know is that when you bring people together, the COVID virus finds it easier to infect other people."
Stickman’s Sept. 14 ruling has already prompted some Pennsylvania school districts to greatly expand attendance at high school football games.
At the news conference in Philadelphia's Franklin Square, Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine were asked if it's now OK to have larger numbers of people at outdoor gatherings like sporting events.
“When you said ‘it’s OK,’ I mean, it’s not OK,” Levine said. “Because if you’re going to have lots of people together, as the governor said, if they’re not practicing social distancing, if they don’t have masks on, if they’re not using hand sanitizer, and you have groups of people congregating together, that’s how you spread this virus. And that has been shown in a number of different national outbreaks."
“So it’s not OK, there are consequences to people’s actions," Levine continued. "What this virus has certainly taught us is that we’re all interconnected, and you can’t avoid that. This is not a political issue, it’s not a partisan issue, it’s a public health issue. The virus is a biological entity, it’s going to spread and reproduce. That’s what it does. And so it’s not OK.”
Philly is different
The ruling only concerned the state-imposed limits on crowds and did not address stricter rulings set down in Philadelphia. According to Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, city rules on gatherings remain in effect:
- competitions and contact sports between teams are still prohibited
- gatherings greater than 150 people are prohibited
The court ruling
Rejecting the state's request for a stay, the judge said Tuesday that state officials failed to explain why they have allowed commercial businesses to operate at a percentage of their capacity — meaning hundreds of shoppers inside a large store, for example — while capping numerical attendance at social, political, cultural and other gatherings.
Wolf said his administration will appeal to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.