U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, an auto dealer, is supporting a federal judge’s ruling Monday that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s coronavirus shutdown orders were unconstitutional.
Kelly, a Republican who is running for reelection this November, owns Mike Kelly Automotive, which retails Cadillac, Chevrolet, Kia, Hyundai and Toyota vehicles in Pennsylvania — a state where auto sales were banned in response to the pandemic. The congressman was diagnosed with COVID-19 in March and has since recovered.
Wolf permitted online auto sales in April and the following month lifted additional restrictions on businesses, enabling dealerships in certain counties to reopen, while requiring a number of health and safety practices. As of July 22, dealerships in all counties are open, but masks are required.
In the 66-page ruling, U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV said orders from Wolf and state Health Secretary Rachel Levine that placed restrictions on gatherings, closed businesses such as dealerships and directed Pennsylvanians to stay home violated and continue to violate the First Amendment as well as the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.
The governor’s coronavirus orders were “undertaken with the good intention of addressing a public health emergency. But even in an emergency, the authority of government is not unfettered,” Stickman wrote in his opinion filed with the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Pennsylvania.
“The Constitution cannot accept a ‘new normal’ where the basic liberties of the people can be subordinated to open-ended emergency mitigation measures,” he wrote.
The Wolf administration said it will file an appeal.
In May, Kelly joined other plaintiffs, including four counties in Pennsylvania, three state representatives and business owners, in the lawsuit, which sought legal determination that Wolf and Levine violated certain constitutional rights through the COVID-19 shutdown orders.
“The ruling affirms that our Constitution is not a suggestion. I joined this lawsuit because there was a larger question that needed to be answered: Do our rights apply in the midst of a pandemic? I believe the answer is yes,” Kelly wrote Monday in a Facebook post on his campaign page.
President Donald Trump retweeted several posts on Twitter, including one from the congressman celebrating the ruling and another targeting coronavirus restrictions in other states, including Michigan, North Carolina and Illinois.
Kelly’s campaign team did not immediately respond to requests for additional comment.
John Devlin, CEO of the Pennsylvania Automotive Association, told Automotive News via email that it’s “too early to tell” whether there will be any effect on dealers in the state or whether the ruling is merely a shield to protect against another round of restrictive orders if COVID-19 cases surge.
“We just need some time to see how this plays out,” he said.