AG Barr tells prosecutors that constitutional rights must be protected during COVID-19 pandemic
(Photo: The DC Patriot)
On Monday, Attorney General William Barr told federal prosecutors to "be on the lookout" for lockdown guidelines that are put into place due to the COVID-19 pandemic that are violating constitutional rights.
Barr would write up a two-page memorandum that was sent out to 93 U.S. attorneys, and it would warn that both state and local directives in some areas of the country could be violating people's rights that are protected by the Constitution, which features religious, speech and economic freedoms.
“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 stated in his memorandum.
Barr would also state in his memo that he was putting two prosecutors from the Department of Justice (DOJ) in place to keep an eye on each state and local governments and "if necessary, take action to correct them."
“Many policies that would be unthinkable in regular times have become commonplace in recent weeks, and we do not want to unduly interfere with the important efforts of state and local officials to protect the public,” Barr would write. “But the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis.”
“We must therefore be vigilant to ensure its protections are preserved, at the same time that the public is protected,” another part of the memo said.
Currently as it stands, ruled by the Supreme Court, governments can legally restrict constitutional rights under emergency public health measures, though the amount of power that governments would legally have is not exactly clear in the ruling.
However, legal experts warn that governments can overstep their boundary when under these circumstances, which we've already seen under the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In times of emergency — including public health emergency — the temptation to violate individual rights is at its greatest, and the courts have often been called on to defend the rights of the vulnerable,” Glenn Cohen, professor at Harvard Law, would previously tell The Hill.
Earlier in April, a federal judge based in Kansas would block an order from the state's governor Laura Kelly, a Democrat, that people couldn't exercise their freedom of religion if they had a gathering of over 10 people.
This isn't the first time that Attorney General Barr has warned both state and local governments about violating people's constitutional rights, particularly with religions gatherings. After a Mississippi church was flooded with police officers for trying to hold a drive-in church service while social distancing, the Justice Department would file a memo out of support for the church.
“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 in a statement on April 14.