Barr orders prosecutors to pursue states, cities that infringe liberties during pandemic

AG names two prosecutors to lead efforts, says good intentioned efforts can still violate the law.

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Attorney General William Barr
Attorney General William Barr at Justice Department headquarters
Justice Department
Updated: April 28, 2020 - 6:28am

 

Attorney General William Barr has instructed federal prosecutors to pursue cases against governors and local officials who infringe liberties with unlawful pandemic restrictions.

Barr on Monday sent out a memo to all U.S. attorneys instructing them to "be on the lookout for state and local directives that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens."

The directive comes a few weeks after the attorney general launched a crackdown on companies and people who were engaged in fraud or price gouging on medical supplies related to coronavirus.

"Even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers," Barr wrote in the new memo. "The legal restrictions on state and local authority are not limited to discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers. For example, the Constitution also forbids, in certain circumstances, discrimination against disfavored speech and undue interference with the national economy.

"If a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court," he added.

Barr named Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Eric Dreiband and Matthew Schneider, a U.S. Attorney in Michigan, to lead the effort.

You can read the Barr memo here.

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