Attorney General William Barr’s Justice Department may intervene in lawsuits against states over stringent coronavirus regulations
Barr said Tuesday that the federal government would be reviewing lawsuits filed against states over their coronavirus regulations to determine whether each is warranted or not. In certain cases, the Justice Department may file a brief supporting a lawsuit alleging that the state had violated someone’s rights unjustly while combatting the pathogen.
“If people bring those lawsuits, we’ll take a look at it at that time,” Barr told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt in a Tuesday interview. “If we think it’s, you know, justified, we would take a position. That’s what we’re doing now.”
“We’re looking carefully at a number of these rules that are being put into place, 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 attorney general continued.
Barr added that the United States’ fight with the coronavirus is at a “sensitive stage” where governors are attempting to draw up plans and prepare their states to transition to a more open regulatory environment. The Justice Department will likely give governors some time to adapt before weighing in on individual lawsuits.
Protests have broken out across several states such as Maryland, Michigan, and Pennsylvania over the state’s heavy-handed approach to combatting the coronavirus. The lockdown orders have contributed to nearly 22 million applications for unemployment insurance filed in the past month, representing the massive toll the virus has taken on the U.S. economy.
Under the stay-at-home orders, thousands of businesses have been deemed “non-essential” and forced to close or severely restrict their operations. Congress approved a $350 billion program to provide loans to struggling small businesses and support them through the crisis. The fund ran dry on Thursday, and the White House and Congressional leaders agreed to a bill to replenish the fund on Tuesday, according to The Washington Post.
Barr warned the damage that the U.S. response to the pandemic was doing to Americans’ livelihoods was beginning to surpass the damage done by the virus itself.
“These are unprecedented burdens on civil liberties right now. You know, the idea that you have to stay in your house is disturbingly close to house arrest,” Barr said. “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.”
A handful of states are preparing to lift their stay-at-home orders and allow communities to begin interacting again with likely some rules on maintaining social distancing. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) has said that Georgia will lift its lockdown by the end of the week, raising concerns from some that Kemp is moving too quickly.
“I worry that our friends and neighbors in Georgia are going too fast too soon,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said on Tuesday. “We respect Georgia’s right to determine its own fate, but we are all in this together. What happens in Georgia will impact us in South Carolina.”
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