In response to a Los Angeles County officials’ announcement that coronavirus shutdowns would be extended again, the Trump administration confirmed that the order “may be both arbitrary and unlawful.”
County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said on May 12 that the local stay-at-home order would need to be extended “with all certainty” for months into the future unless there is “dramatic change to the virus and tools at hand.”
“Unprecedented in our lifetimes”
The update elicited a pointed response from the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, which sent a letter to Ferrer as well as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat.
“Reports of your recent public statements indicate that you suggested the possibility of long-term lockdown of the residents in the City and County of Los Angeles, regardless of the legal justification for such restrictions,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband wrote.
He went on to cite Ferrer’s statement “that a form of stay-at-home restrictions will remain in Los Angeles County ‘for the next three months’ unless a vaccine for COVID-19 is developed” as a potential violation of residents’ constitutional rights.
Acknowledging the duty of public officials “to protect the health and safety of the residents of the Los Angeles area in the midst of a pandemic that is unprecedented in our lifetimes,” Dreiband said such circumstances do not warrant a possibly unlawful overreaction.
“We are charged with protecting the federal statutory and constitutional rights of all persons in our country, and ensuring that governmental restrictions are not unconstitutionally burdensome,” the letter continued.
“Real men wear face masks”
Driving home his point, the U.S. attorney concluded that “there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights.”
This was not the first coronavirus-related disagreement between L.A. officials and the Trump administration. In an appearance on MSNBC this week, Garcetti lambasted the president for refusing to wear a face mask while speaking to reporters during a tour of a Ford plant in Michigan.
“Simply put, he’s our commander in chief,” the mayor said. “I say real men wear face masks.”
Although subsequently released photos show Trump wore a mask at certain points during his visit, he told reporters that he removed it off because he “didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.”
There is still much to learn about the coronavirus and how Americans should respond to the continuing threat. Nevertheless, it is reassuring to know that those in charge at the federal level are also considering the rights of Americans during this uncertain time.