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Political Editors / Apr. 23, 2020

Barr: Some Orders 'Disturbingly Close to House Arrest'

The attorney general promises the DOJ will look into supporting lawsuits over infringed rights.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr appreciates the advantages and respects the boundaries of our federalist system. But that doesn’t mean the Justice Department won’t be looking into cases where states have abused or trampled constitutional rights. Here are a few of the remarks Barr made this week, organized for clarity:

These are unprecedented burdens on civil liberties right now. … The idea that you have to stay in your house is disturbingly close to house arrest. 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.

Obviously states have very broad police powers. When a governor acts, especially when a governor does something that intrudes upon or infringes on a fundamental right or a Constitutional right, they’re bounded by that. And those situations are emerging around the country, to some extent. And I think we have to do a better job of making sure that the measures that are being adopted are properly targeted.

We have to give businesses more freedom to operate in a way that’s reasonably safe. To the extent that governors don’t, and impinge on either civil rights or on the national commerce … then we’ll have to address that.

If people bring those lawsuits, we’ll take a look at it at that time. And 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.

Amidst gasps from the Left at these remarks, Ramesh Ponnuru rhetorically asks, “What’s the attorney general supposed to say? ‘We’ll ignore those lawsuits and we won’t try to enforce constitutional rights’?” Barr is reliably sound when it comes to good governance, and it seems he’s willing to support citizens throughout the roiling debate over what measures are taken to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

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