AG Barr directs US attorneys to watch for abuses of power: ‘The Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis’

(Image: Justice Dept/YouTube screenshot)

US Attorney General William Barr advised federal prosecutors across the nation to be on the “lookout” for state and local coronavirus directives that go too far.

Barr warned in a memo issued Monday that the Justice Department would intervene if the constitutional rights of citizens were violated by any measures implemented by authorities in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The current national crisis related to COVID-19 has required the imposition of extraordinary restrictions on all of our daily lives,” Barr began in his two-page memo titled “Balancing Public Safety with the Preservation of Civil Rights.”

While various stay-at-home orders across the country have been “necessary” to stem the spread of the contagious virus, Bar said it has created “tremendous burdens” in the lives of Americans and he is ordering all US Attorneys to be on guard against any policies being issued that could be in violation of citizens’ rights and civil liberties.

“As the Department of Justice explained recently in guidance to states and localities taking steps to battle the pandemic, 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 wrote just weeks after many state and local officials threatened churches over Easter observances.

“For example, the Constitution also forbids, in certain circumstances, discrimination against disfavored speech and undue interference with the national economy,” he added.

“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 continued.

The attorney general noted that he is “directing the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Eric Dreiband, and Matthew Schneider; the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, to oversee and coordinate our efforts to monitor state and local policies and, if necessary, take action to correct them. ”

Barr, who has been monitoring coronavirus measures across the nation, complained about the “draconian” restrictions that are being placed in some cities and states.

“We have to be very careful to make sure this, that the draconian measures that are being adopted are fully justified, and there are not alternative ways of protecting people,” he told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham earlier this month.

The attorney general contended that the rights of citizens “don’t go away in an emergency” during an interview on “The Hugh Hewitt Show,” indicating that government overreach in imposing excessive rules for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic could be addressed by lawsuits from the Justice Department.

Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer extended the state of emergency order for nearly another month even though she said the number of COVID-19 cases was diminishing in the state where citizens have been vocally protesting lockdown orders.

A federal lawsuit was filed in California challenging Gov. Gavin Newsom on his stay-at-home orders and not allowing protests outside of the Capitol. The Democrat has not lifted sweeping coronavirus directives and residents are getting fed up, especially as he doubled down Monday in anger over beach-goers getting out.

“This virus doesn’t take the weekends off. This virus doesn’t go home because it’s a beautiful, sunny day around our coasts,” he said.

A Maryland restaurant owner said his waterfront eatery was serving takeout orders only when they were swarmed by “15 officers from 4 different agencies” for a violation of the state’s coronavirus orders.

“Many policies that would be unthinkable in regular times have become commonplace in recent weeks,” Barr concluded in his memo.

He added that although “we do not want to unduly interfere with the important efforts of state and local officials to protect the public,” the rights of Americans could not be infringed on.

“But the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis,” he wrote. “We must therefore be vigilant to ensure its protections are preserved, at the same time that the public is protected.”

Frieda Powers

Senior Staff Writer
[email protected]

Originally from New York, Powers graduated from New York University and eventually made her way to sunny South Florida where she has been writing for the BizPacReview team since 2015.
Frieda Powers

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