By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – United States Attorney General William Barr has entered into a debate over governors’ house arrest orders supposed to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, saying it would not rule out action in court against States if he believed that their actions violated civil liberties.
Governors across the country have closed businesses and schools and banned social gatherings in the face of a pandemic that has killed more than 43,000 Americans. Over the past week, a series of scattered protests have called for these orders to be relaxed to lessen the heavy economic toll of the disease.
“We are looking closely at a number of these rules that are in place. And if we think we are going too far, we try to chew the governors first to make them back or adjust them, “Barr said in a radio interview on Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday.
“And if that’s not the case and people are suing, we file declarations of interest and join the plaintiffs … As the prosecution develops, as specific cases arise in the United States, we will examine them. “
His comments come after the Justice Department recently took a stand for a Mississippi church that sued the town of Greenville over state shutdown orders on the grounds that it imposed religious freedoms.
In this case, the Department of Justice has filed an Expression of Interest in support of Temple Baptist Church, which claims that Greenville is trying to prevent it from operating church services by car that meet guidelines. of social distancing.
Some states aim to reopen parts of their economies, while others have taken a more cautious approach, saying they need more tests before things can return to normal.
Barr said on Tuesday that the residence orders are “disturbingly close to house arrest” but could, in some cases, be justified to protect public safety.
He said there was a distinction between home stay orders requiring people to stay 6 feet (1.8 m) away or wear masks in public. These commands “are fine” because they reduce the risk of transmission.
Barr said he was more concerned about “more emphatic” orders to stay at home or close a business “no matter how safe the business is.”
Sarah N. Lynch report; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum
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