Department of Justice warns Los Angeles: Your stay-at-home orders may be illegal

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LOS ANGELES, CA – This past Friday, the Department of Justice warned the Mayor and Health Director of the City of Los Angeles that the COVID-19 stay-at-home order extension may be against the law.

Mayor Eric Garcetti recently extended the stay-at-home order for three months. He and LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer both recently made statements that the restrictions on the county order may continue until there is a vaccine against the virus.

In a letter to the aforementioned LA leaders, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said:

“Reports of your recent public statements indicate that you suggested the possibility of long-term lockdown of the residents in the city and county of Los Angeles, regardless of the legal justification for such restrictions.

“We remain concerned about what may be an arbitrary and heavy-handed approach to continuing stay-at-home requirements.”

Garcetti, like several other Democratic city and state leaders, said that he would be guided in his decision by “science and data” rather than politics.

He also said at a briefing:

“We are not guided by politics. There’s no games, there’s nothing else going on, and that’s the way we’re going to continue to safely open.

“There’s no city in the world that right now doesn’t have some sort of orders and restrictions because we know this virus kills.”

Los Angeles County houses about a quarter of California’s 40 million residents. The county also has accounted for almost half of the state’s COVID-19 cases, including about 55% of the deaths in the state, which has risen to over 3,600.

Dreiband also sent a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom last week warning about his plans of re-opening. More specifically, he warned of his plan’s discrimination against churches opening while allowing other businesses to reopen could cause some trouble for him.

Dreiband said in the letter:

“Simply put, there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights.”

Over 1,200 pastors in California have said they will reopen come May 31 whether or not they have the blessing of the Governor.

Dreiband has also appeared to support a lawsuit filed by Republican state Rep. Darren Bailey against Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker for going beyond the scope of his authority in the state’s stay-at-home orders.

In that case, Dreiband’s issued statement said, in part:

“The Governor of Illinois owes it to the people of Illinois to allow his state’s courts to adjudicate the question of whether Illinois law authorizes orders [Governor J.B. Pritzker] issued to respond to COVID-19.

“Under our system, all public officials, including governors, must comply with the law, especially during times of crisis.”

In April, Law Enforcement Today told you about the DOJ’s warnings about overreaching stay-at-home orders.

It appears as if they weren’t just spouting lip service.

Here’s the article on that again in case you missed it.

For governors that have been piling too many restrictions on citizens pertaining to COVID-19 lockdowns, AG William Barr recently said that they could be subject to civil suits – and the DOJ may side with the plaintiffs filing them.

With the numerous governors that have enacted various “stay-at-home” orders across the country, there have been instances where residents of certain states have been citing overreaching executive orders regarding certain implementations of them.  

AG Barr recently appeared on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, where the show host brought up the question of whether citizens who feel as though certain lockdown orders are going too far would be able to successfully sue state officials:

“Will citizens be able to use either the 5th Amendment’s prohibition on condemnation without compensation or 42 USC 1983 to bring actions against the governments that were obviously indifferent to that blunt instrument’s time to be put away?”

For those unaware, 42 USC 1983 that Hewitt references is noted as “civil action for deprivation of rights.” Essentially, the code states that if someone’s “rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws” gets infringed by the government, then they can sue for damages.

Barr responded to the question, noting that it was a rather generalized hypothetical posed. He explained that without any facts, or a broader outline of the proposed scenario, that he couldn’t deliver an honest answer.

The reality of possible lawsuits being levied at certain states has been a hot topic over the past few weeks. Even President Trump had taken to Twitter to express his concerns on overbearing lockdown measures.

So, it makes perfect sense to ask questions of this nature to one of the best sources of information, AG Barr.

Hewitt pressed on with the topic and dug in a little deeper with Barr, reiterating 42 USC 1983:

“But theoretically, we also have 42 USC 1983, and it has occurred to me that if someone gets out of control, the best answer is not screaming at your television.

It may be to litigate against individuals who are abusing our rights. And that is a long-standing tradition in the United States. It happens.”

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At that point, Barr stated that if/when the time comes to look into law suits against those holding power within the states, then the DOJ would review them accordingly:

“Well, 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.”

Barr explained how the DOJ is keeping a close eye on the unrest developing over overreaching orders to stay home throughout the U.S.:

“We, you know, 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.”

While Barr would clearly prefer a smooth transition back to a reopened economy, he once again stated that if civil action is brought against the states, the DOJ will review those cases:

“We’re at sort of a sensitive stage where we’re really transitioning to starting a process of trying to get the nation back up and running, you know, I think that’s the best approach. As lawsuits develop, as specific cases emerge in the states, we’ll take a look at them.”

What this all means is that there’s going to be some scrutiny applied when local and state officials attempt to keep lockdowns either needlessly long or enact restrictions that are over the top. Without naming any specific governors that should be mindful, I’m sure there are a few that come to people’s minds.

For those interested, you can watch the entire AG Bill Barr interview below:

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