HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s high court on Wednesday ruled against an effort by Republican state lawmakers to end Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s shutdown orders.
A divided court ruled that a resolution passed with mostly GOP votes was a “legal nullity” because it was not sent to Wolf to sign or veto.
“We express no opinion as to whether the governor’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes wise or sound policy,” wrote Justice David Wecht, joined by three others. “Similarly, we do not opine as to whether the General Assembly, in seeking to limit or terminate the governor’s exercise of emergency authority, presents a superior approach for advancing the welfare of our commonwealth’s residents.”
Republican majorities in both chambers, along with a few Democrats, voted early last month to end the emergency disaster declaration that has led to closure of “non-life-sustaining” businesses, bans on large gatherings and orders that people stay at home.
Two senior Republican senators sued to enforce their resolution, and the high court took up the matter and ruled without hearing oral argument.
“A legislative veto in the context of a statute delegating emergency powers might be a good idea. It might be a bad idea. But it is not a constitutional idea under our current charter,” Wecht wrote.
The state constitution grants governors the right to approve or veto concurrent resolutions, but the emergency services law included a provision that gave the Legislature power to end disaster proclamations “at any time.”
The majority said the Emergency Management Services Code does give the General Assembly the ability to end a disaster emergency at any time, but “the statute also provides that the state of disaster emergency ends only after the governor so finds.”
Chief Justice Thomas Saylor said he would have ruled to give lawmakers the ability to end a disaster emergency on their own.
“I am of the view that the breadth of the essential delegation of emergency powers to the executive in light of future and unforeseen circumstances justifies an equally extraordinary veto power in the Legislature,” Saylor wrote, joined by Justice Sallie Mundy. They are the court’s only Republican members.
Wolf’s office issued a statement saying the administration was pleased with the decision to keep in place the disaster proclamation.
A message was left seeking comment from Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, who sued to enforce the concurrent resolution.