A week after telling conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that the Justice Department would likely support any American citizen suing his local government for coronavirus lockdown mandates that violate the public’s civil rights, Attorney General William Barr has reportedly directed federal prosecutors to watch carefully for such violations.
“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 in a federal memo. “But the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis. We must therefore be vigilant to ensure its protections are preserved, at the same time that the public is protected.”
Barr has asked Civil Rights Division chief Eric Dreiband to “be on the lookout for state and local directives that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.” He has also put Detroit-based U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider in charge of the initiative.
The attorney general has been clear that he supports the White House’s guidance on business shutdowns and social distancing, and he has acknowledged the importance of state and local leaders putting restrictions on their citizens for the sake of slowing the spread of the coronavirus. However, Barr has also expressed grave concern over the extent to which some leaders have used the pandemic as an excuse to strip the citizenry of their basic rights.
“There is no denying,” he said, “that they have imposed tremendous burdens on the daily lives of all Americans.”
On Monday, President Trump expressed support for Barr’s actions.
“He wants to see people get back to work,” Trump explained. “He does not want people to be held up when there is no reason for doing it. The attorney general doesn’t want rights taken away. There are some people, they are not allowed to open up their store. They’re going to lose their livelihood. And, by the way, that causes death also. The fact that people aren’t allowed to have their freedom causes tremendous amounts of problems, including death, so that’s what he’s talking about.”
The left will undoubtedly stage a freakout over these words from the president and Attorney General Barr, because most Democrats seem to want us to stay shut up in our houses until the day before the election. But this isn’t about throwing open the doors of the economy and packing into baseball stadiums by May 1. This is about keeping careful watch over the tyrant governors of some states who seem to think they’ve stumbled into the authoritarian powers of their wildest dreams.
Once upon a time, people on the left considered themselves the champions of civil rights. This would be a good time for them to rediscover that priority.