Attorney General William Barr advised some state governors that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would consider legal action if social distancing mandates are too strict in areas where coronavirus cases are dropping.
In a Tuesday (April 21) radio interview with conservative host Hugh Hewitt, Barr said that governors with mandates that are too strict could inadvertently be violating citizens’ fundamental and constitutional rights.
“When a governor acts, especially when a governor does something that intrudes upon or infringes on a fundamental right or a Constitutional right, they’re bounded by that,” Barr said. “And those situations are emerging around the country, to some extent.”
Barr pointed to some stay-home rules as “burdens on civil liberties” and indicated that if lawsuits surface, the DOJ would not side with the states.
“The idea that you have to stay in your house is disturbingly close to house arrest. 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,” Barr said.
President Donald Trump introduced his Opening Up America Again plan and has been aggressively touting his desire to get back to normal and has been emphasizing the importance of reopening the economy sooner rather than later. He said some states can ease restrictions ahead of the May 1 federal guideline.
Republican governors from Georgia and South Carolina are looking to allow some businesses to reopen this week.
In the interview, Barr praised Trump's handling of the pandemic and said that the DOJ would be watching governors who don't follow the latest federal guidance on phased reopening for certain parts of the economy.
“I think the president’s guidance has been, as I say, superb and very common sensical, and I think a lot of the governors are following that,” Barr said. “And you know, to the extent that governors don’t and impinge on either civil rights or on the national commerce, our common market that we have here, then we’ll have to address that.”
Georgia and other southern states’ reopening plans are ahead of the three-phase Opening Up America Again. South Carolina began some limited store reopenings on Monday (April 20), while Florida has already lifted a state order that closed public beaches. Texas will likewise allow for some limited business reopenings on Friday, while Tennessee announced plans to reopen the majority of its businesses as of May 1.