Parker v. Pennsylvania Governor Wolf

On September 3, 2020, the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) filed a civil rights lawsuit against Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, the Pennsylvania Attorney General, and Dr. Rachel Levine, the Secretary of Health for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, challenging various restrictions imposed upon the fundamental liberties of Pennsylvanians during this declared pandemic.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on behalf of four citizens who object to the contact tracing program, the mandate to wear masks, and the Governor’s unilateral exercise of power without any checks and balances from the General Assembly—the government body that is most responsive to the people.

The lawsuit challenges the Governor’s and the Department of Health’s contract tracing program and mandate to wear face masks, claiming that these restrictions infringe upon fundamental liberties protected by the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments.  The lawsuit also more broadly challenges Governor Wolf’s authority to exercise his “emergency powers.”  This challenge is brought under Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution, which guarantees each State a republican form of government.

As alleged in the Complaint, the challenged contact tracing program infringes upon fundamental liberties protected by the Bill of Rights, and it grants government officials extraordinary and unbridled power.  As noted in the lawsuit:

“The challenged contact tracing program is dangerous.  It would permit a desperate and unscrupulous political operative to dampen voter participation in a given district.  It would permit a desperate and unscrupulous business owner to stifle competition.  Either could falsely and anonymously report incidences of coronavirus without fear of repercussion.  Trolls could create chaos.  Protesters could trigger panic as a form of civil disobedience.  Hostile foreign intelligence operatives could shut down an entire city by falsely reporting COVID-19 infections in every neighborhood.  The abuses permitted by granting the government such power are practically without limits.”

Regarding the challenged mask mandate, the Complaint alleges:

“For many, including Plaintiffs, forcing them to wear a face mask is forcing them to convey a message with which they disagree.  Wearing a mask conveys the message that the wearer has surrendered his or her freedom to the government, particularly in light of the facts of this current declared pandemic.  During this current political climate, a mask has become a symbol of government oppression.  Because a mask has become a political symbol during this current and highly politicized pandemic, the wearing of a mask is a form of symbolic speech.  Consequently, via the mask mandate, Defendants are compelling Plaintiffs to engage in a form of expression and to convey a message with which they disagree.

The mask mandate presumes that all people are diseased and thus makes the wearer contribute to a false public statement that all people are in fact diseased.

Plaintiffs also object to the mask mandate because it violates their privacy interests, including their right to bodily integrity and personal autonomy free from government interference.  In this regard, Plaintiffs agree with the oft-quoted mantra, ‘My body, my choice.’

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The mask mandate is forcing every Pennsylvanian, including Plaintiffs, to become the government’s patient without the citizen’s consent.

The mask mandate creates a false public impression that private citizens must rely on the government for their safety, thereby allowing Defendants to use the mandate as a tool for maintaining power and authority.”

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the challenged restrictions are unconstitutional and an order enjoining their enforcement.  It also seeks a declaration that Governor Wolf’s exercise of his “emergency powers” is invalid and an order enjoining the same.