Day after federal ruling, Wolf targets Trump, GOP lawmakers

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

Gov. Tom Wolf stood by his COVID-19 mitigation measures Tuesday and assailed Republicans who celebrated after a federal judge ruled that much of the governor's response to the pandemic violated the U.S. Constitution. 

Wolf responded to the previous day's ruling at a news conference Tuesday at York Grace Brethren Church in York City.

State Rep. Carol Hill-Evans (D-York City), right, looks on as Gov. Tom Wolf speaks to media at York Grace Brethren Church in York City, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"Yesterday, Harrisburg Republicans celebrated, while thousands upon thousands in our state continue to suffer and even more worry about what this virus will bring to them and their families this fall," Wolf said.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge William S. Stickman IV declared much of Wolf's COVID-19 response, including shutting down businesses and limiting the number of people who could gather in one place, unconstitutional.

The governor said he will appeal the ruling.

President Donald Trump retweeted several news stories Monday reporting on the decision.

Wolf, a Democrat, said the Republican president "could do nothing more than stare at his cell phone and send out tweets" and members of the state Legislature were celebrating the court ruling "while refusing to help anybody but themselves."

Republicans throughout Pennsylvania, including York County's delegation in the state House, lauded the court's ruling and blasted Wolf's mandates as arbitrary and unfairly beneficial to big business.

Wolf said Republicans in Harrisburg spent the pandemic circulating "conspiracy theories" and the federal government "dithered" while his administration acted. 

More:Wolf's emergency orders unconstitutional, federal judge rules

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks to media at York Grace Brethren Church in York City, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

'Unconstitutional': The ruling by Stickman, a Trump appointee, stated that the Wolf administration's policy limiting indoor gatherings to 25 people and outdoor gatherings to 250 people violates “the right of assembly enshrined in the First Amendment.”

Republicans in the General Assembly have blasted the governor's handling of the pandemic almost since it began in March, when Wolf ordered the majority of Pennsylvania's businesses, except for those deemed "essential," to close indefinitely.

The GOP has tried to overrule the governor and remove his authority to keep the commonwealth under a continued state of emergency due to the coronavirus, but Wolf vetoed the legislation and there weren't enough votes in the Legislature to override the veto.

As of noon Tuesday, there had been 146,214 positive cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania since the pandemic began, including 4,258 in York County, the state Department of Health reported.

Statewide, there have been 7,875 deaths attributed to COVID-19, including 5,300 deaths associated with nursing and personal care homes, the state reported.

On Aug. 26, the U.S. Department of Justice sent letters requesting information to four governors, including Wolf, about their policies of sending COVID-19 patients to nursing homes.

DOJ officials have said they'll use the information requested to determine whether to initiate an investigation into potential violations of nursing home residents' rights through such policies.

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More:York County has 42 new cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday