Governors say they’re “keeping us safe.” But who’s protecting the Constitution?
Attorney General Bill Barr told federal prosecutors Monday to “be on the lookout” for coronavirus restrictions that infringe on people’s rights, the Hill reported. “The Constitution is not suspended” because of the coronavirus pandemic, Barr wrote.
DOJ to look for abuse
Barr’s memo comes as lockdown orders to stop (or slow, as government officials said originally) the spread of the coronavirus are fueling anger and fears of overreach. Barr has made his sympathy for those who feel beleaguered by “quarantine” clear, threatening to levy the force of the Justice Department against restrictions that go too far.
The attorney general said in a memo that coronavirus restrictions may be necessary in the interest of public health, but stressed that they must not tamper with Constitutional rights.
“If a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID-19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court,” Barr wrote.
“The Constitution is not suspended” on account of a virus, he said, stressing that “we do not want to unduly interfere with the important efforts of state and local officials to protect the public.” He assigned the DOJ’s civil rights division and the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan to oversee a monitoring of coronavirus restrictions.
“We must therefore be vigilant to ensure [Constitutional] protections are preserved, at the same time that the public is protected,” he added.
Barr supports citizens against overreach
While acknowledging the intended purpose of lockdowns, Barr consistently says that they must be enacted thoughtfully and without abusing people’s rights. He told radio host Hugh Hewitt that some lockdowns come “disturbingly close to house arrest” and that he would support citizens in lawsuits against public officials who take it “too far.”
The draconian restrictions should start to give way to more “targeted” approaches soon, he said, citing progress in slowing the spread of the virus. “I’m not saying it wasn’t justified. I’m not saying in some places it might still be justified. But it’s very onerous, as is shutting down your livelihood,” he said.
Barr’s department filed a statement of interest this month in support of a Mississippi church that he said was singled out by authorities for holding drive-in services. Barr warned that authorities must not target citizens’ rights in the name of public health.
“Even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers,” Barr said, according to The Hill.
President Donald Trump has also said that some governors have gotten “carried away” with their restrictions, and he recently called for various states to be “liberated.”