AG Barr: Lockdowns ‘Greatest Intrusion on Civil Liberties’ Since Slavery
Barr has warned of government overreach of power concerning restrictions
Attorney General William Barr blasted the Government coronavirus lockdowns, describing them as the “greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history," besides "slavery."
The attorney general's remarks coincided with a Constitution Day celebration commemorating when the Constitution was signed by the Framers in Philadelphia in 1789.
Barr has warned of government overreach of power concerning restrictions imposed by state authorities on First Amendment rights, most notably the freedom of religion.
Barr’s Department of Justice (DOJ) in April issued a memorandum to all U.S. attorneys to “be on the lookout for state and local directives that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.”
Barr emphasized "temporary restrictions” should not become an “overbearing infringement" on First Amendment rights for the sake of public health.
The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division stood up against state and local Democratic governments who were imposing extreme measures against religious services.
Meanwhile, a federal judge ruled that Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 lockdowns were unconstitutional.
Judge William Stickman IV ruled, “even in an emergency, the authority of government is not unfettered. The liberties protected by the Constitution are not fair-weather freedoms — in place when times are good but able to be cast aside in times of trouble.”
Stickman is an appointee of President Donald Trump.
Barr’s remarks come as well as his criticism against DOJ prosecutors for abusing their power.
Barr said (as prepared for delivery):
The most basic check on prosecutorial power is politics. It is counter-intuitive to say that, as we rightly strive to maintain an apolitical system of criminal justice. But political accountability—politics—is what ultimately ensures our system does its work fairly and with proper recognition of the many interests and values at stake. Government power completely divorced from politics is tyranny.
Line prosecutors, by contrast, are generally part of the permanent bureaucracy. They do not have the political legitimacy to be the public face of tough decisions, and they lack the political buy-in necessary to publicly defend those decisions. Nor can the public and its representatives hold civil servants accountable in the same way as appointed officials. Indeed, the public’s only tool to hold the government accountable is an election — and the bureaucracy is neither elected nor easily replaced by those who are.
Name one successful organization where the lowest level employees’ decisions are deemed sacrosanct. There aren’t any. Letting the most junior members set the agenda might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it’s no way to run a federal agency. Good leaders at the Justice Department—as at any organization—need to trust and support their subordinates. But that does not mean blindly deferring to whatever those subordinates want to do.
Active engagement in our cases by senior officials is also essential to the rule of law. The essence of the rule of law is that whatever rule you apply in one case must be the same rule you would apply to similar cases. Treating each person equally before the law includes how the Department enforces the law.
We should not prosecute someone for wire fraud in Manhattan using a legal theory we would not equally pursue in Madison or in Montgomery, or allow prosecutors in one division to bring charges using a theory that a group of prosecutors in the division down the hall would not deploy against someone who engaged in indistinguishable conduct.
Taking a capacious approach to criminal law is not only unfair to criminal defendants and bad for the Justice Department’s track record at the Supreme Court, it is corrosive to our political system. If criminal statutes are endlessly manipulable, then everything becomes a potential crime.
This criminalization of politics is not healthy. The criminal law is supposed to be reserved for the most egregious misconduct — conduct so bad that our society has decided it requires serious punishment, up to and including being locked away in a cage. These tools are not built to resolve political disputes and it would be a decidedly bad development for us to go the way of third world nations where new administrations routinely prosecute their predecessors for various ill-defined crimes against the state. The political winners ritually prosecuting the political losers is not the stuff of a mature democracy.
Another example of the government's overreach of power came last month when Los Angeles' Democrat Mayor Eric Garcetti threatened to cut power and water from private entities that defy the city's lockdown measures, including churches.
Mayor Garcetti blasted those who hold gatherings, where social distancing is not possible, as "irresponsible and selfish."
Garcetti threatened to cut off power to any private entity that defied shutdown orders in March.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic in California, there is currently a ban on indoor religious services in 29 counties representing 80 percent of the state’s population.