Supreme Court Denies Pennsylvania Businesses’ Request to Overturn State Pandemic Restrictions

May 7, 2020 Updated: May 7, 2020

The Supreme Court has denied a request filed by a group of Pennsylvania businesses seeking to overturn an executive order issued by the state’s governor that closes “non-life-sustaining” businesses in response to the CCP virus pandemic.

The top court on May 6 denied the application to stay the enforcement of the governor’s order, without providing a reason. The application was filed by Friends of Danny DeVito, a committee supporting a GOP state representative candidate, a real estate agent, a public golf course, a laundry company, and a timber management company.

“The application for stay presented to Justice Alito and by him referred to the Court is denied,” the order reads (pdf).

The group filed its request to the Supreme Court after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied its request to stay the order (pdf) on April 24. That court held that the businesses had “not established any basis for relief based upon their constitutional challenges.”

On March 19, Gov. Tom Wolf issued an executive order (pdf) requiring all non-life-sustaining businesses in Pennsylvania to close their physical locations in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the pandemic.

The businesses sued and have been arguing that the state lacks the statutory authority to issue the order and that it infringes on the residents’ constitutional rights under the U.S. and state constitutions.

The businesses also contended that the order creates severe financial stress that tens of thousands of businesses in the state may not be able to recover from.

“That would constitute the complete destruction of the property rights of vast numbers of businesses,” the businesses wrote in their application to the Supreme Court (pdf).

Since filing the original complaint in Pennsylvania, two of the businesses—the laundry and timber companies—were allowed to reopen after Wolf moved their industries to the list of life-sustaining businesses. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had treated their petitions as moot (pdf) in its opinion.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected the businesses’ arguments, saying that the governor’s order “results in only a temporary loss of the use of the Petitioners’ business premises, and the Governor’s reason for imposing said restrictions on the use of their property, namely to protect the lives and health of millions of Pennsylvania citizens, undoubtedly constitutes a classic example of the use of the police power to ‘protect the lives, health, morals, comfort, and general welfare of the people.'”

In a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, Pennsylvania’s attorney general argued that much of the businesses’ arguments amount to “public policy disagreements as to how the Governor used his authority.”

“Applicants do not challenge the principles themselves; they merely disagree with that court’s conclusions,” the state attorney general wrote (pdf).

“More fundamentally, such public policy prescriptions, as ill-founded as they are, are not legal grounds for challenging the governor’s order. The application should be denied.”

The businesses have also filed a request to the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision (pdf), which is still pending in the court.

The debate between protecting civil liberties and public health has flared in recent weeks as Americans begin expressing frustration with restrictions. Many of the state and local measures have caused Americans to lose their jobs, while plunging their states into a deep economic slump. Some have taken to the streets to protest the restrictions.

Multiple court challenges have been filed against governors over their executive orders that impose a variety of bans that are seen as an assault on civil liberties and individual rights, including cases over religious discrimination where drive-in services were banned in multiple cities across the country.

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