AG Barr Warns DOJ Will Come Down Hard on Governors Who Go Too Far with Lockdowns
Attorney general says some stay-at-home orders 'disturbingly close to house arrest'
Attorney General William Barr has warned that the Justice Department might consider taking legal action against governors that go too far in imposing state restrictions against citizens amid the coronavirus lockdowns.
AG Barr said during a Tuesday interview that the need for strong restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19 may now be passing.
"There are very, very burdensome impingements on liberty," the attorney general told radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt.
"We adopted them for the limited purpose of slowing down the spread.
"We didn't adopt them as the comprehensive way of dealing with this disease," Barr added.
"We are now seeing that these are bending the curve, and we have to come up with more targeted approaches."
Barr said some of the restrictions, such as shutting down businesses and ordering people to stay home, are intrusions on civil liberties that may be justified under the broad police powers states have to protect public health.
He warned, however, that some governors may go too far and are interfering with interstate commerce, which is the domain of the federal government.
If that happens, "we'll have to address that," Barr said.
Such action could take the form of the federal government supporting lawsuits that challenge state restrictions.
A partial transcript of the interview is as follows:
HUGH HEWITT: To use your analogy, Mr. Attorney General, sometimes even with the best-intentioned doctors, and often with quacks and idiots, malpractice occurs.
If such happens, to use your analogy at the state level, will citizens be able to use either the 5th Amendment’s prohibition on condemnation without compensation or 42 USC 1983 to bring actions against the governments that were obviously indifferent to that blunt instrument’s time to be put away?
ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR: Hugh, you know, again, that’s such a general hypothetical bereft of any facts or, you know, what exactly the consequences in the actions of the governor are.
I really can’t answer that.
But you know, one of the reasons we have federalism is because the people provide a much greater check over their governors and the state officials than they do over a more remote federal government. And the first line of defense for people is the political process in their states.
HEWITT: But theoretically, we also have 42 USC 1983, and it has occurred to me that if someone gets out of control, the best answer is not screaming at your television.
It may be to litigate against individuals who are abusing our rights.
And that is a long-standing tradition in the United States.
ATTORNEY GENERAL BARR: Well, if people bring those lawsuits, we’ll take a look at it at that time.
And if we think it’s, you know, justified, we would take a position.
That’s what we’re doing now.
We, you know, we’re looking carefully at a number of these rules that are being put into place.
And if we think one goes too far, we initially try to jawbone the governors into rolling them back or adjusting them.
And if they’re not and people bring lawsuits, we file statement of interest and side with the plaintiffs.
And at this stage, and we’re at sort of a sensitive stage where we’re really transitioning to starting a process of trying to get the nation back up and running, you know, I think that’s the best approach.
As lawsuits develop, as specific cases emerge in the states, we’ll take a look at them.
Last week, the Justice Department took such an action just by filing a statement in support of a small Mississippi church.
The church filed a lawsuit against city officials who tried to shut down a drive-in service while allowing a local drive-in restaurant to stay open.
Barr called stay-at-home orders "disturbingly close to house arrest."
"I'm not saying it wasn't justified," he said.
But "it's very onerous, as is shutting down your livelihood," the AG added,
Barr said fighting the pandemic is like treating a cancer patient, using chemotherapy to localize the disease before switching to more targeted approaches.
"Now is the time that we have to start looking ahead and adjusting to more targeted therapies," he said.
He called President Donald Trump's plan to ease up on restrictions "a very commonsensical approach" based on assessing the status of the virus in each city and state.