Attorney General William Barr is under fire for saying in a Wednesday Hillsdale College speech that the coronavirus lockdowns were the “greatest intrusion on civil liberties” since slavery.
Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) said that the comments were “the most ridiculous, tone-deaf, God-awful things I’ve ever heard.”
“Slavery was not about saving lives. It was about devaluing lives,” Clyburn said. “This pandemic is a threat to human life.”
But Clyburn seemed to miss the point that stay-at-home orders and non-essential business shutdowns, to a lesser extent, deprived people of their freedoms and their rights to make decisions about their own lives.
Congressional Republicans respond
Republicans in Congress varied in their responses to Barr’s words, with some disputing his choice of comparison.
“That’s not the analogy I would use,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, while admitting that the lockdowns have been “tough.”
“Any time you talk about slavery, it’s going to be inflammatory,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said of the comments. “I think some of the lockdowns have been arbitrary and inconsistent, and I think there are civil liberties concerns. I share some of those concerns, but . . . I would not use those words.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was more supportive of Barr, arguing that “imprisoning 300 million people in their homes for nine months has no precedent in modern times.”
Medical professional not “grand seer”
Barr also said that medical professionals and scientists should not be decision-makers for societal policies in the case of the coronavirus. “The person in the white coat is not the ‘grand seer’ who can come up with a right decision for society. A free people makes its decision through its elected representative,” he said.
Barr has expressed dismay over the coronavirus lockdowns on other occasions as well, saying that some were almost tantamount to “house arrest” and that his DOJ had sent letters to some governors and officials warning them that they were crossing constitutional lines.
Barr also spoke about the DOJ he runs, criticizing career prosecutors for following their own ambitions and beliefs rather than the unchanging principles of the rule of law and the leadership of Barr himself.
“The rule of law is the foundation of civilization, including economic prosperity,” Barr said.