(UnitedVoice.com) – US Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday he was deeply concerned about strict measures imposed on citizens to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Governors in several states have issued strict orders in recent weeks, especially in Michigan where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) told citizens they couldn’t even cross the street to talk to a neighbor while practicing social distancing. Some measures, Barr said, were akin to “house arrest.”
Appearing on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, Barr said that citizens have the right to sue states over strict measures that go too far. He also said that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will also join them. Barr did acknowledge that some of the orders were necessary and justified for a short time. However, the attorney general remarked that some were oppressive and burdensome.
Barr said the purpose of the shutdowns and quarantines was to flatten the curve of COVID-19. It was not meant to be a long-term, catch-all means of dealing with the pandemic. “These are,” he said of state shutdowns,” very, very burdensome impingements on liberty.”
Governments Have Constitutional Constraints
The AG stressed that the Constitution does not go away or take a back seat during an emergency. He emphasized that federal, state, and local governments have constraints and a burden to ensure constitutional liberties that are restricted are “necessary to deal with the problem.” The idea of healthy people forced to stay in a house smacked of “house arrest” to Barr.
He added that, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, governments ought to start looking at targeted ways to control the spread of COVID-19.
Barr seemed particularly concerned about two issues. First, some state and local governments were going too far. In those instances, he said the DOJ was watching them closely. If one goes too far, they will try to “jawbone” governors and local officials into backing off. If people bring lawsuits, Barr said the DOJ would file a “statement of interest” and side with plaintiffs. One such case happened last week when the DOJ filed a statement of interest and sided with a Mississippi church whose religious rights may have been violated.
On April 7, Greenville, MS barred churches from holding drive-in and in-person religious services until the governor lifted his shelter in place order. Temple Baptist Church held an Easter Sunday morning service in the church parking lot where parishioners listened to the service over their car radios. Worshipers were practicing social distancing when police greeted and fined them $500 per car. The DOJ supported the church’s lawsuit, and the next day the city excused the tickets.
The second issue Barr expressed were potential orders by governors that could put a burden on interstate commerce. This commerce falls under federal jurisdiction under the Commerce Clause in the US Constitution. To date, governors have not proposed orders that violate the Commerce Clause, but he warned the DOJ would be watching.
By Don Purdum, Freelance Contributor
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