Department of Justice Supporting Challenges to Illinois, California Stay-at-Home Orders

The Department of Justice is signing onto challenges to the stay-at-home restrictions imposed by the state governments of California and Illinois, suggesting legal challenges to the onerous executive orders could stand a chance at success with the federal government’s support.

Attorney General Bill Barr had previously suggested that some restrictions enacted by state and local governments in response to coronavirus were ‘excessive,’ declining to rule out that the DOJ would support challenges to their extension. The AG had pledged to watch out for “overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections.

The Justice Department has filed a statement of interest backing a lawsuit against Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, and sent letters to Los Angeles County officials questioning the length of the county’s planned stay-at-home restrictions, which has been extended indefinitely with some speculating the order could remain in place until July.

Reports of your recent public statements indicate that you suggested the possibility of long-term lockdown of the residents in the city and county of Los Angeles, regardless of the legal justification for such restrictions,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband wrote. “We remain concerned about what may be an arbitrary and heavy-handed approach to continuing stay-at-home requirements.

The Illinois statement of interest has even greater legal significance, with the Justice Department signing onto a lawsuit filed against the governor over the ongoing lockdown. Steven Weinhoeft, the US Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, explained the federal government’s attitude towards Illinois’ similarly indefinite lockdown period in the legal document.

However well-intentioned they may be, the executive orders appear to reach far beyond the scope of the 30-day emergency authority granted to the Governor under Illinois law,” explained the prosecutor. “Even during times of crisis, executive actions undertaken in the name of public safety must be lawful.

Expect legal challenges to stay-at-home restrictions to gather in steam as the public tires of their seeming indefinite nature and the economic consequences become more readily apparent. Blue state governors can’t expect to be backed up by the federal government, either.

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