President Donald Trump declined to rule out Monday a threat by Attorney General Bill Barr to consider taking states to federal court over coronavirus-related restrictions.
“It would depend on the state, it would depend on the circumstances of the state,” Trump said when asked Monday about Barr’s directive to federal prosecutors.
In a document dated Monday with the subject “Balancing Public Safety with the Preservation of Civil Rights” Barr wrote about the measures states have taken to help their communities stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic. He then directed U.S. attorneys to “also be on the lookout for state and local directives that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.”
“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.”
The instruction from Barr comes as Trump continues to face a tense dynamic between the White House and the nation’s governors. The president had earlier falsely claimed total authority over states reopening decisions, a move he quickly backed away from.
When a reporter pressed Trump during a press conference in the Rose Garden about whether the federal government would indeed consider suing states, the president punted to Barr.
“But I think he wants to see, like everybody, he wants to see people get back and wants to see people get back to work,” Trump said. “He doesn’t want people to be held up when there’s no reason for doing it. In some cases perhaps it’s too strict.”
Soon after, Trump bemoaned that there are some people that cannot open a store and fretted they could “lose their livelihood.”
“And by the way that causes death also, between all of the things that happen and this has been a big study,” Trump said. “The fact that people aren’t allowed to have their freedom causes a tremendous amount of problems, including death. So that’s what he's talking about.”
Only a few states in the country have avoided stay-at-home orders during the pandemic. But the president has been clear about his issue with the restrictions some states have put in place. Earlier this month, Trump targeted a trio of Democratic-led states with a Twitter call to “LIBERATE” them.
And when it comes to people protesting state restrictions, Trump has labeled those who have gathered to demand an end to stay-at-home orders as “very responsible people.”
“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,” Barr wrote in the Monday memo.