‘These are very, very burdensome impingements on liberty’…
“To the extent that governors don’t and impinge on either civil rights or on the national commerce … then we’ll have to address that,” Barr told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “The idea that you have to stay in your house is disturbingly close to house arrest. I’m not saying it wasn’t justified. I’m not saying in some places it might still be justified. But it’s very onerous, as is shutting down your livelihood.”
Barr added that he’s speaking only of “hypothetical” situations. But the Justice Department has already intervened in at least one case, in Greenville, Mississippi, where the mayor had unlawfully banned drive-in church services.
Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons refused to allow churches to hold drive-in services, even if these services followed the federal government’s social distancing guidelines. Meanwhile, drive-through restaurants were allowed to remain open.
Several churches challenged Simmons’s order and Barr sided with them, arguing the mayor’s ban “strongly suggests that the city’s actions target religious conduct.”
Simmons then backed down.
The Justice Department is willing to take similar action in other states that violate citizens’ rights, Barr told Hewitt. If a state has gone “too far,” the Justice Department will “try to jawbone” governors into rolling back restrictions, he said.
If that doesn’t work, federal prosecutors will file “statements of interest and side with the plaintiffs” if citizens take their governments to court, as the Justice Department did in Greenville.
Barr also noted that November’s elections will be an even “greater check” on state officials’ authority.
“The first line of defense for people is the political process in their states,” he said.
It is obvious, Barr said, that as the country begins to reopen, the states will need to adopt a more “targeted” approach instead of blanket-banning certain liberties.
“These are very, very burdensome impingements on liberty,” Barr said. But these impingements were always supposed to be “limited,” not “comprehensive,” he added.
“Now is the time that we have to start looking ahead and adjusting to more targeted therapies,” Barr said.
The bottom line is that the burden of proof lies with the state governments, not with the citizens, Barr said. It is not the citizen’s responsibility to prove that his rights are being infringed upon. It is the government’s responsibility to prove that that infringement is necessary. And in many cases, it is not necessary, Barr said.
The state governments “can impose certain limitations,” Barr said earlier this month, but that doesn’t mean our leaders have a license to abuse their emergency powers.
“I’m very concerned about the slippery slope in terms of continuing encroachments on personal liberty,” he said.