State officials have officially requested a stay of an order that declared gathering limits unconstitutional.
If a federal judge grants the request, it would stop the ruling from going into effect while attorneys appeal the finding on behalf of Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine.
“Suddenly abandoning the large gathering limitations will allow the virus to freely spread throughout the commonwealth. This risk of harm to the public outweighs any harm to plaintiffs,” Chief Deputy Attorney General Karen M. Romano wrote in the stay request filed Wednesday.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV found the state’s gathering limits – 25 indoors and 250 outdoors – violated First Amendment protections that guarantee the right to assembly. Stickman’s ruling also deemed stay-at-home and non-life-sustaining business closures unconstitutional, but those orders have not been in place for several months.
The ruling was in response to a lawsuit initiated by Washington, Greene, Fayette and Butler counties, and included lawmakers, individuals and businesses in those counties. An attorney for the plaintiffs has until Monday to respond to the motion.
Romano also filed notice of appeal to the Third Circuit Court, which handles cases in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
In the motion for a stay, Romano argued that Stickman “does not consider the manner in which COVID-19 is spread or the rationale for adopting the congregate limits.”
She also noted that other courts have not ruled challenges to mitigation efforts were unconstitutional.
“The split in authority created by the court’s opinion makes it difficult, if not impossible, for defendants to manage the pandemic effectively and has created confusion and uncertainty throughout Pennsylvania,” Romano wrote.
She argued that issuing a stay “will allow a life-saving mitigation tool to remain in place and preserve the lives of Pennsylvanians while the legal issues are addressed on appeal.”
The filing argued in favor of numerical gathering limits, contending they “serve to limit confusion, are easily understandable, and amendable to comparatively swift administration.
“If all congregate limits are abandoned, the virus will be free to spread like wildfire throughout the commonwealth, resulting in an increased rate of infection and increased death. This harm cannot be undone,” Romano wrote. “Eliminating the commonwealth’s ability to limit large gatherings will inescapably increase the prevalence of superspreader events, leading to a larger number of people dying from this disease than otherwise would occur. As far as our medical science has come, death remains irrevocable.”