“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support, obey and defend the constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of this Commonwealth . . . “
That sentence is the key component included in the oath of office administered to elected officials in Pennsylvania at the state, county and municipal levels.
No mention of allegiance to the Governor of Pennsylvania.
No mention of allegiance to the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
No mention of allegiance to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Allegiance is sworn to the constitutions of the United States and of the Commonwealth. Generally speaking laws are passed by the legislature with the “consent of the governed,” administered by the executive branch based upon that authority, and, when necessary, adjudicated by the courts based upon those same documents.
But that has not been the case in 2020 as a power crazed governor and a rogue state Supreme Court have run roughshod over the very constitutions they have sworn to uphold. As mentioned, no elected official in the commonwealth has sworn allegiance to them, thus it is that a majority of legislators along with numerous county and municipal officials have worked to restore constitutional balance.
An example is Westmoreland County Sheriff James Albert. He is no right-wing Republican ideologue. In fact he was elected in 2019 as a Democrat and switched to the GOP last Fall during the Democratic Party’s lurch into abolish the police extremism. He, along with a number of county sheriffs across the state, are refusing to enforce Governor Tom Wolf’s latest orders singling out the restaurant industry, among others, for draconian shut-down measures.
Albert has over 40 years of experience having served as a law enforcement officer, a magisterial district judge, and now he is a county sheriff. Sheriff Albert told the Greensburg Tribune-Review that experience has “taught him there is a delicate balance between enforcing government mandates and at the same time protecting individual civil liberties.” He says the current restrictions violate that balance.
They do indeed.
The Westmoreland County Sheriff is not alone in choosing to uphold his oath of constitutional fidelity over the pernicious whims of the governor and an activist state Supreme Court. Statewide county sheriffs have been joined by district attorneys and municipal officials in refusing to enforce the governor’s orders. More and more restaurants, gyms and other restricted facilities are staying open in defiance of the state edicts.
Some will say those business are being selfish by putting profit ahead of the overarching public good of containing the spread of virus. Yet there is no evidence to suggest closing such facilities will slow the spread. In fact, the governor and the Department of Health have violated the state’s Open Records law and are fighting in court to prevent relevant data from being released. The Wolf Administration has been less transparent than the Kremlin in providing statistics and records relative to its growing string of shut-down orders and restrictions.
While refusing to release data, state health officials cite an obscure 1955 Disease Prevention and Control Law and an administrative code dating back to 1929 to justify their mandates. But their interpretation of the law is overly broad, allowing them to assume powers never intended by the legislature.
A more accurate reading of legislative intent, not to mention current public sentiment, came in the form of the numerous laws passed by the General Assembly in an effort to loosen or end the governor’s heavy-handed, and given the current spike in cases, ineffective, mandates. A majority of lawmakers, often a bi-partisan majority have supported those bills. All have met with a gubernatorial veto.
So a strong argument can be made that the will of the people has been expressed through their elected representatives and that Governor Wolf himself has acted in an unconstitutional manner by violating the Fifth Amendment’s “Takings Clause,” as extended to the states in the 14th amendment, by forcing business to close and taking the investment of the owner and the jobs of the employees without just compensation.
As the struggle to end the governor’s dictatorial powers continues we can at least take heart that there are those elected officials who stand firm on their oaths of office and who have the courage to stand up for “we the people” when our constitutional rights have been infringed.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln radio Journal and American Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
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