Attorney General William Barr sent a memo (two-page PDF) to prosecutors across the country to be on the alert for state and local governments issuing directives that violate constitutional rights.
AG Barr referenced a previous memo to prosecutors in which he told them to be on the lookout for those illicitly profiting from the crisis. But now is the time for additional warnings. An excerpt (emphasis added):
“As the Department of Justice explained recently in guidance to states and localities taking steps to battle the pandemic, 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. 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.
“I am therefore directing the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Eric Dreiband, and Matthew Schneider; the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, to oversee and coordinate our efforts to monitor state and local policies and, if necessary, take action to correct them. They should work not only with all Department of Justice offices and other federal agencies, but with state and local officials as well.”
AG Barr reminded the nation’s prosecutors that the U.S. Constitution isn’t suspended during times of crises. These rights must be protected.
Various local and state governments have tried to restrict citizens’ First and Second Amendment rights by barring drive-in church services, while allowing drive-through and curb-side restaurant services and attempting to shut down gun shops and ranges.