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Appellate Court allows Pa. to reinstate crowd size restrictions

A federal appeals court stayed a district court’s Sept. 14 order that declared Gov. Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 gathering limits unconstitutional, allowing the Wolf administration to enforce crowd gathering restrictions while the Sept. 14 order is being appealed.

The decision means the 25-person limit on indoor events and 250-person limit on outdoor events will remain in effect while the lower court’s order by U.S. District Judge William Stickman is being appealed by Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine.

Circuit Judges for the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Thursday temporarily suspended Stickman’s Sept. 14 ruling invalidating the constitutionality of crowd size restrictions put in place by Wolf and Levine to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The order was signed by Third Circuit Appeals Court Judges Michael Chagares and Patty Schwartz and Chief Justice D. Brooks Smith without providing further explanation.

Stickman ruled that business closure orders and stay-at-home mandates issued by the Wolf administration violated citizens’ constitutional rights. Stickman on Sept. 22 denied Wolf and Levine’s motion to uphold limitations on in-person gatherings while administration officials moved through the appeal process.

Wolf said he’s confident the Sept. 14 ruling will be successfully appealed since two other federal judges upheld the legality of the administration’s actions in cases earlier this year.

“There’s no sense debating a ruling that will be appealed — two of three federal judges upheld what we did,” Wolf said in response to the judge’s ruling that his mandated restrictions were unconstitutional.

“But what’s not up for debate is that our early and decisive action saved lives,” Wolf said. “While the federal government dithered, Pennsylvania took action. Our hospitals were never overwhelmed and research tells us thousands of lives were saved.”

Justin Henry is the regional reporter for the Central Penn Business Journal and the Lehigh Valley Business. He can be reached at jhenry@bridgetowermedia.com.

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