A new memo issued Monday by Attorney General Bill Barr told federal prosecutors nationwide to “be on the lookout” for COVID-19 public health measures that “could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.”
Barr’s memo alluded to the disputes have arisen between churches and government officials who have shut down religious gatherings due to the pandemic. But he added that the “legal restrictions on state and local authority are not limited to discrimination against religious institutions and religious believer
“For example, the Constitution also forbids, in certain circumstances, discrimination against disfavored speech and undue interference with the national economy,” Barr said. Barr’s interest in those supposed constitutional violations comes as conservative groups have rallied behind protests of governors who have issued shutdown orders, while President Trump’s allies more broadly push for a “re-opening” the 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,” Barr said.
As a Reuters reporters pointed out, the memo did not mention abortion rights, which has also become a flashpoint as states like Texas and Alabama have sought to impose restrictions on the procedure, ostensibly because of the pandemic. Nor did it mention voting rights, another subject that has prompted legal battles across the country related to the outbreak.
Barr, in the memo, said he was tasking Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Eric Dreiband and Matthew Schneider, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, with the job of coordinating the DOJ efforts to “monitor state and local policies and, if necessary, take action to correct them.”
Read the memo below: