U.S. Attorney General William Barr instructed U.S. attorneys to monitor cases of state and local governments infringing on citizens’ civil liberties Monday as municipalities remain on lockdown nationwide amid the pandemic over the novel Wuhan coronavirus.
“Millions of Americans across the nation have been ordered to stay in their homes, leaving only for essential and necessary reasons, while countless businesses and other gathering places have been ordered to close their doors indefinitely,” Barr wrote in a department memo. “These kinds of restrictions have been necessary in order to stop the spread of a deadly disease – but there is no denying that they have imposed tremendous burdens on the daily lives of all Americans.”
As the pandemic brought swift and abrupt change to modern life, millions of Americans have been subject to draconian measures implemented by states shutting down businesses deemed by “non-essential” and restricting citizens’ freedom of movement. In Michigan, the state’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had even barred travel “between residences” and banned the sale of gardening seeds.
The strict lockdowns provoked protests across the country and law enforcement declaring they would refuse to enforce governors’ orders.
“In prior Memoranda, I directed our prosecutors to prioritize cases against those seeking to illicitly profit from the pandemic, either by hoarding scarce medical resources to sell them for extortionate prices, or by defrauding people who are already in dire circumstances… We have pursued those efforts vigorously and will continue to do so,” Barr wrote. “Now, I am directing each of our United States Attorneys to also be on the lookout for state and local directives that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.”
Barr had previously indicated a willingness to pursue legal action against states carrying out draconian measures if they did too much to trample of citizens’ freedoms.
The attorney general maintained last week that governors’ orders are only justifiable up to a certain point, arguing that eventually, states needed to take a more targeted approach.
“We have to give businesses more freedom to operate in a way that’s reasonably safe,” Barr said on “The Hugh Hewitt Show” last week.
“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.”
As of Monday afternoon, several states have already begun to partially open up or have plans to do so this week, including Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, according to a list maintained of state guidelines by the New York Times.