by Georg Grassmueck
On October 6, 2020, the auditor general of Pennsylvania, Eugene DePasquale, released a status update on his ongoing audit of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) waiver process for businesses that appealed Governor Wolf’s covid-19 closure order. To everyone’s surprise, the auditor general concluded that his office discovered inconsistencies and puzzling decisions in the business waiver process.
On March 19, Governor Tom Wolf ordered businesses not categorized as “life-sustaining” to close in order to slow the spread of covid-19, however, businesses could request a waiver to remain open. Immediately afterward, numerous business owners and legislators complained that the waiver process lacked transparency. On April 30, the auditor general’s office announced DePasquale would audit how DCED manages the waiver process. On September 14, 2020, US district judge William Stickman IV found Governor Wolf’s business closure order unconstitutional, stating that covid-19 orders from Governor Wolf and Pennsylvania secretary of health Rachel Levine violated, and continue to violate, the First Amendment right to freedom of assembly as well as the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. William Stickman IV writes that despite having good intentions in addressing the spread of the virus, “even in an emergency, the authority of government is not unfettered.”