Attorney General William Barr had harsh words Wednesday for proponents of placing extreme restrictions on life, employment, travel and individual and religious liberties amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Barr explained that in his mind, the issue of forcing people to close their businesses, schools and churches and to stay home is a historic assault on liberty.
“You know, putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders, is like house arrest. It’s — you know, other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,” he said while answering questions at an event hosted by Hillsdale College.
Barr also went after governors who used their executive powers to deny citizens their constitutional rights.
“Most of the governors do what bureaucrats always do, which is they … defy common sense,” Barr added.
“They treat free citizens as babies that can’t take responsibility for themselves and others.”
Barr was critical of blanket policies which left many business owners across the country with no other option than to fall into financial ruin and close their businesses.
Employees of many of those businesses were let go from their jobs, leading to a skyrocketing unemployment rate shortly after the coronavirus began spreading throughout the country.
The national unemployment rate rose to 14.7 percent by April of this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
It has since fallen to 8.4 percent as state and local governments gradually lifted lockdowns.
“We have to give business people an opportunity, tell them what the rules are you know the masks, which rule of masks, you had this month,” Barr said.
He added: “[A]nd then let them try to adapt their business to that and you’ll have ingenuity and people will at least have the freedom to try to earn a living.”
Barr also touched on criticism he has faced with regard to his leadership at the Justice Department.
He specifically criticized rogue attorneys and prosecutors, whom he said would not guide the direction of the department.
“[D]evolving all authority down to the most junior officials does not even make sense as a matter of basic management,” he said, according to a DOJ transcript of his remarks.
“Name one successful organization where the lowest level employees’ decisions are deemed sacrosanct. There aren’t any. Letting the most junior members set the agenda might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it’s no way to run a federal agency.”
Barr also laid out his vision for how the DOJ should operate with a fundamental duty to prioritize absolute justice and equal application of the law.
Citing Ronald Reagan, Barr said the country’s 40th president “used to remind people, the Soviet Union had a constitution too, and it even included some lofty-sounding rights. Ultimately, however, those promises were just empty words, because there was no rule of law to enforce them.”
“In short, it is important for prosecutors at the Department of Justice to understand that their mission — above all others — is to do justice,” he later said. “That means following the letter of the law, and the spirit of fairness.”
Barr made his remarks during the Hillsdale College celebration of Constitution Day.
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