If anyone is wondering who gave Governor Wolf of Pennsylvania, Governor Murphy of New Jersey and Mayor Kenney of Philadelphia the power to order privately owned businesses and property owners to shut down under penalty of arrest, they are not alone. These authoritarian executives, without a vote by their respective legislatures, have decided what is life sustaining and what is not — and issued hastily drawn-up edicts shutting down entire industries that do not make the cut.  This sudden usurpation of freedom and democracy should alarm everyone much more than the threat of the virus.    

As the shock of swift and complete clampdowns on peoples’ livelihoods has worn off, many citizens have noticed the lack of rhyme or reason in how these executives labelled businesses — and are consequently beginning to challenge the mandates.   Citizens of Pennsylvania and New Jersey began to query: why is a member of the executive branch suddenly making proclamations that so drastically affect our life, liberty and pocketbooks? Is this even permitted under our laws?

Our Founding Fathers would be proud of those of us questioning the seizure of our income sources in the name of public health. 

Our Founding Fathers would be proud of those of us questioning the seizure of our income sources in the name of public health.  Indeed, when those wise men created our system of separation of powers, which is inherent to all state and local governments, it is as if they planned for the very day when government officials would begin acting as if we are their subjects, rather than citizens with a democratic voice.

Recently, Pennsylvania Governor Wolf proclaimed gun stores to be non life-sustaining.  Pennsylvanians quickly showed him that they begged to differ. In fact, as the chief executives of PA, NJ and Philadelphia began their edicts — and regular citizens felt the encroaching grip of government — demand for firearms skyrocketed.  The protests, on social media and covered by local talk radio hosts such as Dom Giordano and Rich Zeoli, became deafening. Wolf quickly reversed course.   

Andrew Cuomo recently tweeted: “If it’s public health versus the economy, the only choice is public health.  You cannot put a value on human life.” The problem with Cuomo’s questionable logic is that, under that benchmark, we must immediately outlaw cars, butter, booze, air travel, ladders, heavy machinery, swimming pools, bicycles, buses, and walking down the street.  

The problem with Cuomo’s questionable logic is that, under that benchmark, we must immediately outlaw cars, butter, booze, air travel, ladders, heavy machinery, swimming pools, bicycles, buses, and walking down the street.  

People and policy-makers make trade-offs every day, based on the perceived risk (cost) of taking any number of courses of action, versus the potential rewards. Are we to suspend basic human nature in the face of a public health crisis? 

Because we are a free nation, we allow most activities, along with laws and regulations to reduce their inherent risks.  We certainly do not want anyone to be sick, suffering or dead. By the same token, we want to live our lives. We weigh risks and rewards alongside reasonableness and reality.  Maybe we should step back and look at the current pandemic the same way.

Recently, Rich Zeoli, on his morning talk show, asked why Governors Wolf and Murphy (and Philly Mayor Jim Kenney) are treating their constituents like children, threatening those who dare to defy the arbitrary shutdown orders.  While Zeoli spends much more time interviewing doctors and scientists about the risks of the virus, and incessantly reminds us to wash our hands, he wonders if our governors and mayors secretly think they are anointed kings. As seemingly concerned as anyone else at the potential threat of an insuppressible health hazard, he also looks at the downstream personal and financial devastation of the runaway closure of most of the private sector.

That type of blasphemy did not go unnoticed by Professor David Boardman, the Dean of Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University, who tweeted at Zeoli with the sanctimony that only tenured academics have the comfort of mustering: “[Governor Murphy] is saving lives.  You’re endangering them.”  

Boardman, who teaches journalism and presumably the First Amendment, demonstrates an amazing incapacity for self-perception.  Our founders established a free press specifically so citizens can speak up to keep government in check. Why the hostility towards Zeoli, and by extension, statements in the press that Boardman disfavors?

The difference between Professor Boardman and those of us in the private sector is that we are watching our ability to feed and shelter our families being held hostage to the whims and caprice of democratically elected leaders making decisions in panic mode — while possibly overstepping their authority.  Those same leaders have a comfort most of us do not: they are firmly ensconced in government or academia that steadfastly secures their present and future incomes.  

The problem with Cuomo’s questionable logic is that, under that benchmark, we must immediately outlaw cars, butter, booze, air travel, ladders, heavy machinery, swimming pools, bicycles, buses, and walking down the street.  

Densely populated areas that enjoy a frequent influx of both interstate and international travelers, such as New York City and Northern New Jersey, have a grave problem on their hands that must be aggressively contained.  Those among us who are elderly, immunosuppressed, or already suffering from diseases are especially vulnerable. We must do what we can to prevent the spread of this persistent virus.

However, while acting swiftly to protect our collective well-being, robust questioning of our leaders’ decisions must not only be permitted, but encouraged.  Maybe it will take us a week, a month, or even the rest of the year to “flatten the curve.” Hopefully, we will not abandon common sense along the way, indefinitely and indiscriminately shuttering businesses, neighborhoods, towns and industries when more precise targeting of the protection of susceptible populations would have been just as effective.

I hope that as this unprecedented crisis continues, reasonable people continue to push back and question those we elected to lead us. Our nation’s history shows us that we can fix any problem we face, without a complete abdication of the liberty on which we were founded.

Linda A. Kerns is an attorney and a co-founder of Broad + Liberty. She can be reached at lkerns@broadandliberty.com. @lindakernslaw.

Editor’s note:  Ms. Kerns earned a Master of Law in Taxation from the Temple University Beasley School of Law in 2003.  She did not study under Dean Boardman. She has previously appeared on both The Rich Zeoli Show and The Dom Giordano Show.  

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