Granting the motion allows Governor Tom Wolf to continue restricting public gatherings while his appeal of the district court decision is pending. On September 22, 2020, the Western District of Pennsylvania denied a similar motion.
Pennsylvania had been enforcing a limit of no more than 25 people for indoor events and no more than 250 people for outdoor events. Several communities resumed large public gatherings after the district court decision, most notably school sporting events. Granting the motion to stay reinstates Pennsylvania’s restrictions pending appeal.
“We’re pleased that the court granted our request for a stay on indoor and outdoor gathering limits,” said Lyndsay Kensinger, press secretary for Governor Wolf. “This ruling means that the 25 indoor and 250 outdoor gathering orders remain in effect.”
The panel of Third Circuit judges granting the stay did not issue an opinion with their order.
On September 14, 2020, Judge William S. Stickman IV issued a 66 page opinion declaring large portions of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 mitigation orders unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
In the September 14 opinion, County of Butler et al. v. Thomas W. Wolf et al., the district court expressed concern over the lack of transparency and accountability in Pennsylvania’s decision-making process. Judge Stickman characterized the design, implementation and administration of businesses closures as “shockingly arbitrary.”
The governor’s appeal requires he submit his written argument to the Third Circuit by November 4, 2020. Plaintiffs’ arguments are due 30 days later. The plaintiffs, which includes several Pennsylvania counties and businesses, have indicated they may petition the United States Supreme Court for certiorari if they are unsuccessful at the appellate level.
It is unclear whether the Third Circuit will require oral arguments or make their decision based solely on written submissions. A decision could come as early as the final weeks of 2020 or early 2021.
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Author Patrick McKnight is an associate in the Litigation Department at Klehr Harrison.