The Lead

Pa. Supreme Court will take up fight between Wolf, Republicans over COVID-19 emergency declaration

By: - June 17, 2020 3:35 pm

Pennsylvania Supreme Court chambers in Harrisburg (Capital-Star photo)

A lawsuit brought by Pennsylvania’s Senate Republicans challenging Gov. Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 disaster declaration was fast tracked to Pennsylvania’s high court Wednesday.

The state Supreme Court will decide if Wolf must sign a resolution, passed by both the GOP-controlled House and Senate, to end his state of emergency for the coronavirus.

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, a lower level appeals court that handles lawsuits against the state, had already agreed to take up the case on June 29. But that hearing will now be delayed until the state Supreme Court acts.

The Supreme Court decision was first reported by the investigative news site Spotlight PA. 

Since March 6, Wolf has used broad executive powers to contain the spread of COVID-19 throughout the commonwealth, closing schools, shuttering businesses, and ordering people to stay at home. 

Nearly 80,000 Pennsylvanians have caught COVID-19 to date. Of them, 6,162 people have died. Millions more have lost their jobs due to the state’s mitigation efforts.

Wolf has utilized a 1970’s-era statue which states that the governor “is responsible for meeting the dangers to this Commonwealth and people presented by disasters.”

The state Supreme Court, which earlier backed Wolf’s disaster declaration, will now decide if it must end.

In its April ruling, the high court had turned away a private legal challenge, arguing that the check on Wolf’s power comes from the General Assembly who “may terminate a state of disaster emergency at any time,” by passing a resolution in both the House and Senate.

After a month of declining case counts, the General Assembly first moved to end the declaration in late May. It finally passed last week.

The Wolf administration argues that the Pennsylvania Constitution gives the governor the ability to veto any legislation that passes both chambers. 

Legislative Republicans counter that Wolf has “refused to meet his mandatory and ministerial duty” and are asking the court to command Wolf to end the state of emergency.

In an email, Jenn Kocher, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said the caucus looked forward to a swift decision.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.