DOJ Would Support Legal Action If Governors' Restrictions Go 'Too Far,' Barr Says

Apr 21, 2020
Originally published on April 21, 2020 4:17 pm

Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department would support legal action against states that continue to impose strict social distancing rules even after coronavirus cases begin to subside in their respective states.

In a Tuesday interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt, Barr called some current stay-at-home orders "burdens on civil liberties" and said that if they continued and lawsuits were brought, his department would side against the state.

"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 Trump has expressed an eagerness to reopen states' economies as soon as possible, pitching the possibility of some states easing coronavirus restrictions even before the federal guidelines on social distancing expire on May 1.

Already, two states with Republican governors, Georgia and South Carolina, have said they will allow some businesses to reopen as soon as this week, despite not meeting the White House-recommended criteria to relax COVID-19 restrictions.

Barr was asked what he would do with any governors who are "indifferent" to easing restrictions in their states. "We're looking carefully at a number of these rules that are being put into place," Barr said. "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."

The White House last week outlined three-phase guidelines for states to reopen their economies. The first phase says that large venues such as restaurants and movie theaters can begin reopening at reduced capacity under strict social distancing rules but warns against gatherings of 10 people or more.

In Tuesday's interview, Barr praised Trump's guidance through the coronavirus pandemic and said that the recommended mitigation techniques were never meant to be a permanent solution to the virus.

"I think the president's guidance has been, as I say, superb and very commonsensical, and I think a lot of the governors are following that," he 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."

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