These are the words Americans needed to hear.
As the country struggles to emerge from the coronavirus lockdowns that have played havoc with the economy and given state and local government an excuse to crack down on cherished freedoms, Attorney General William Barr is putting the full weight of the Justice Department behind defending the country’s founding document.
It’s not the message overreaching governors like Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer probably wanted to get, but it’s what ordinary citizens were waiting for.
In a memo on Monday to United States attorneys around the country, Barr noted that the coronavirus crisis has brought restrictions on Americans that would never be acceptable under normal circumstances.
But he made clear there are limits to how much freedoms can be restricted.
“Many policies that would be unthinkable in regular times have become commonplace in recent weeks, and we do not want to unduly interfere with the important efforts of state and local officials to protect the public,” Barr wrote. “But the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis.”
Attorney General Barr’s Memo to U.S. Attorneys:
“The Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis.”
— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) April 27, 2020
That probably comes as news to state and local officials who thought health concerns gave them license to decide which religious gatherings they would tolerate and which could be supressed.
But Barr’s language is crystal clear.
“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,” Barr wrote.
However, he added, religious rights aren’t the only ones where government infringement is off-limits.
“The legal restrictions on state and local authority are not limited to discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers,” he wrote.
“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.”
The line about “undue interference with the national economy” is going to carry a lot of weight in the weeks ahead as state leaders make decisions about whether — and how — to let their economies return to life.
And social media users lost no time in backing Barr up.
Thank God someone is doing something. THANK YOU from California, AG Barr! #OpenCalifornia
— TheTroubleWithLisa (@troublewithlisa) April 27, 2020
My civil rights to earn a living are seriously infringed upon. What happened to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness? They let prisoners out of jail and arrest hairdressers.
— Annmarie Cantwell (@TravelinTootsie) April 27, 2020
Better start w whitmer…she is going to overstep her authority again…she is all about power
— 4wtrained (@bturnmire12) April 27, 2020
I love that!
Now something have be done to stop those violations against America people.
— Lidia Strong (@LidiaStrong2020) April 27, 2020
Even Democrats and liberal media commentators understand that the U.S. economy that was humming before the coronavirus pandemic hit was President Donald Trump’s biggest argument for re-election.
Getting the economy back into anything resembling the jaw-droppingly low unemployment the country enjoyed before March would go a long way toward pushing Trump over the finish line in November.
At the same time, the protests erupting around the country against the continued lockdowns are evidence that the patience of a good part of the American people has run its course.
Obviously, something had to be done to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but working people with families to feed and bills to pay have their own calculus – one that’s a good deal different from liberal journalists and Democratic politicians whose paychecks don’t depend on their being physically on the job.
Just as obviously, getting American businesses back up and running shouldn’t be a pell-mell affair. Barr’s memo specifically acknowledges that the measures were “required” in some cases by the national emergency.
It also acknowledges that the Justice Department does not wish “to unduly interfere with the important efforts of state and local officials to protect the public.”
But the presumption has to be in favor of getting the country as close to normal as possible – and Barr’s memo puts the United States Justice Department firmly on that side.
Anyone old enough to remember when Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch were holding the office under President Barack Obama knows full well that if they – or someone like them – had been wielding the power Barr now has, Americans wanting to get back to work would have no friend in that office.
But Trump in the Oval Office means a man like Barr as attorney general.
And a man like William Barr as attorney general means Americans got the words they needed to hear.
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