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Nadler, Cohen, Scanlon and Raskin Seek Answers on DOJ Threats Against State Imposed Coronavirus Restrictions

May 11, 2020
Press Release

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Chair Steve Cohen (D-TN), Committee Vice Chair Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), and Subcommittee Vice Chair Jamie Raskin (D-MD) sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr requesting a briefing on legal action the Department of Justice has taken—and has threatened to take—against state governments that have imposed strict public health and safety restrictions to combat COVID-19.

In their letter, the Members wrote, "With regards to the Department’s legal authority to override state public health restrictions, we are concerned the Department’s position supporting efforts to suspend stay-at-home directives treads on questionable constitutional grounds. Under relevant legal precedent, content-neutral restrictions on the right to assemble, for example, are justifiable so long as they are narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.  In the Department’s eagerness to litigate against these measures, we are concerned you may have misunderstood or mischaracterized relevant law, including the orders at issue in the Virginia litigation.

"The Department’s actions are particularly troubling considering the lack of a coordinated national response to the pandemic by the Administration—which includes the failure to address the shortage of medical equipment, rapid testing, or personal protective equipment;  or to provide comprehensive guidance for reopening  that would help the country mitigate the threat of a second wave. Rather, the President and his allies have stated that state and local governments are, in many respects, on their own as they seek to address this crisis.  In light of our myriad questions and concerns—which go directly to the safety of our constituents and the Department’s role in our system of federalism—we request a briefing with the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Eric Dreiband; the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Matthew Schneider; and other relevant Department officials."

Full text of the letter can be here.

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