Attorney General William Barr instructed federal prosecutors around Monday United States to identify restrictions imposed by state and local governments because of the coronavirus “that may be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of citizens.”
The memo to federal prosecutors orders the director of the civil rights division of the Justice Department and the Attorney General for the Eastern District of Michigan to coordinate the agency’s efforts to oversee state and local policies and take action if necessary.
“If a state or local ordinance crosses the line between an exercise of proper authority to curb the spread of the COVID-19 and an authoritative violation of constitutional and statutory protections, the Justice Department he may be required to address that overreach in federal court, ”the memo states.
Barr’s memo was issued two weeks after the Justice Department filed a declaration of interest in a civil case in Mississippi, aligning itself with a Christian church where local authorities had tried to prevent the transmission of Easter religious services to the worshipers sitting in their cars in the parking lot.
The guideline comes at a time when many orders to stay home will expire, and when governors eager to rescue their economies are rushing to reduce the restrictions put in place to control the spread of the coronavirus, even as new areas emerge with many cases and experts warn that moving too fast could be disastrous.
At the same time, protests have erupted against orders to stay home, and in recent weeks President Donald Trump has urged his supporters to “liberate” three states ruled by Democrats.
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The Justice Department alleged in the document filed in Mississippi that the Greenville authorities appeared to be focused on religious conduct by singling out churches as the only essential service, designated by the state of Mississippi, that it was unable to operate despite following all the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state regarding social distancing.
In an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt last week, Barr said the Justice Department could back legal action against states imposing strict measures as the number of coronavirus cases begins to decline.
“The idea that you have to stay home is eerily similar to house arrest,” Barr said. “I am not saying that it was not justified. I’m not saying that in some places it could still be justified. But it is very expensive, because it is paralyzing your livelihood. “
Barr said he believes there are sufficient bases for the social distancing rules that have been implemented, but warned that there could be concerns if the restrictive measures continue for a long time. He has said that the United States must find a way to allow businesses to adapt and reopen.
“I think we have to allow people to find a way to get back to work and keep their employees and customers safe,” Barr said in an interview with Fox News a few weeks ago. “I am not suggesting that we eliminate social distancing overnight. There may come a time when we have to worry less about it, “he added.