The coronavirus crisis doesn’t trump the Constitution.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker was the latest official to get that lesson in constitutional law on Thursday when a federal judge announced Baker had overstepped his bounds with an executive order that closed gun stores by lumping them in with other businesses deemed “nonessential” by the powers that be.
“There’s no justification here,” Judge Douglas Woodlock said in Boston, the Boston Globe’s Matt Stout reported.
“I don’t have anything like a substantial fit between the goals of the emergency declared by the commonwealth and the burdening of the constitutional rights of the defendants in this narrow area.”
Woodlock: “There’s no justification here. I don’t have anything like a substantial fit between the goals of the emergency declared by the commonwealth and the burdening of the constitutional rights of the defendants in this narrow area.”
— Matt Stout (@MattPStout) May 7, 2020
“When we’re dealing with constitutional rights, some degree of clarity that tells us that it’s necessary is perhaps a foundational requirement,” Woodlock continued, according to Stout.
Well, yes, a little “clarity” about necessity would be a good thing for governors to have before deciding to abrogate the constitutional rights of American citizens.
When it comes to gun rights, clarity might be even more important for the governor of Massachusetts, the colony that kicked off the American Revolution when British regulars launched a largely unsuccessful raid to destroy a cache of arms assembled by rebellious colonists. As most schoolchildren know — or used to — the colonists’ resistance meant the foray didn’t end well for the forces of the British Empire.
According to Reuters, Baker’s mid-March order was challenged by “would-be gun purchasers, retailers and gun rights advocacy groups, including the Second Amendment Foundation,” which argued that “the orders amounted to an unconstitutional ban on acquiring firearms and ammunition for self-defense purposes.”
Baker’s order might have been particularly shameful given Massachusetts’ place in American history, but he was far from the only governor who has used, or attempted to use, the coronavirus crisis to curtail constitutional rights
In one such case in Pennsylvania, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf quietly backed down on a plan to close gun stores. In other states, such as Washington, where Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee is in charge, the ban is technically in effect but some gun stores have been defying it.
In others, such as New Jersey, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy initially closed gun stores by executive order, but apparently decided they might be “essential” after all – after at least three gun rights groups filed lawsuits over the issue, according to Politico.
And that’s just the Second Amendment. Church services have also been a battleground pitting First Amendment constitutional rights against coronavirus emergency orders.
That issue is still being fought from state to state — two churches won a federal ruling in April in Kansas; in California, a federal court on Tuesday upheld a ban on church services by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, according to The Associated Press.
What makes the Massachusetts case particularly noteworthy is that it involved a Republican governor. As the examples in this article show, the idea of using the coronavirus to crack down on constitutional liberties tends to be largely a creature of the Democratic Party.
Fortunately, there’s an attorney general in Washington who understands the guarantees of the Constitution, and federal judges who aren’t shy about slapping back governors who try to overstep their bounds.
If Americans want to keep a Justice Department that respects the Constitution and a president who keeps appointing judges whose loyalty to the country’s foundational law is more important than political fads, they need to remember these days come November.
It’s sad to say, but given the totalitarian bent of the Democratic Party’s current leadership, keeping President Donald Trump won’t be all that’s on the ballot.
Voters will essentially be deciding whether to keep the Constitution, too.
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