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AG Barr warns states going ‘too far’ on coronavirus lockdowns could face legal action

Attorney General Bill Barr and FBI Deputy Director Bowdich at press conference announcing charges against 4 Chinese military hackers on Feb. 10, 2020. (U.S. Department of Justice/Released)
April 23, 2020

Attorney General Bill Barr warned states whose lockdown orders go “too far” that they will face legal action and the Justice Department will back lawsuits against them if they refuse to ease their excessive restrictions.

In a Tuesday interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt, Barr discussed ongoing disputes between the federal government and state governments, as to how and when coronavirus lockdown orders may be lifted. Barr noted that the lockdowns are raising new concerns about civil liberties.

“These are unprecedented burdens on civil liberties right now. You know, the idea that you have to stay in your house is disturbingly close to house arrest,” Barr said. 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 went on to suggest some level of lockdown is justified, to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but compared excessive lockdowns to giving chemotherapy to a cancer patient.

“This is a little bit like, you know, fighting a cancer, which is you know, sometimes cancer is spreading, and one of the treatments you can use is chemotherapy to drive it back and localize it and make it more susceptible to surgery or more targeted things like radiation or even immunotherapy,” Barr said. “But your first thing is to drive it back to a manageable, a more manageable state. And that’s what we’re doing and have done. And the question is you can’t just keep on feeding the patient chemotherapy and say well, we’re killing the cancer, because we were getting to the point where we’re killing the patient.

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“Now is the time that we have to start looking ahead and adjusting to more targeted therapies,” Barr continued.

Hewitt asked Barr how his Department of Justice (DOJ) might counteract the problems Barr described.

“We’re looking carefully at a number of these rules that are being put into place. And if we think one goes too far, we initially try to jawbone the governors into rolling them back or adjusting them,” Barr said. “And if they’re not and people bring lawsuits, we file statement of interest and side with the plaintiffs.”

Barr’s comments come a week after the DOJ warned state governments could face lawsuits for shutting down religious services in a manner inconsistent with lockdown orders for other areas of public life.

DOJ Director of Communications Kerri Kupec recently tweeted “While social distancing policies are appropriate during this emergency, they must be applied evenhandedly & not single out religious orgs. Expect action from DOJ next week!”