U.S. Attorney General William Barr has stated that the Justice Department would be willing to go up against governors’ orders that “impair interstate commerce.”
Republican state Rep. Aaron Bernstine is asking U.S. Attorney General William Barr and the U.S. Department of Justice to review Gov. Tom Wolf’s current mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bernstine and 46 other legislators from the Pennsylvania House and Senate feel the Wolf administration’s plan for reopening the state economy violates the Constitution.
In a recent memo to federal prosecutors across the country, Attorney General Barr called stay-at-home orders “necessary” but “tremendous burdens” and warned legislators to be on guard for overbearing state and local measures in regard to the novel coronavirus.
“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 memo, per CNN.
From the onset of the pandemic, Barr has lamented statewide stay-at-home orders as “draconian,” and has stated that the Justice Department would be willing to go up against governors’ orders that “impair interstate commerce.”
Bernstine, who represents the 10th District, shared the letter he sent Barr on his Facebook page Wednesday evening. “The Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis,” he prefaced the post. “We have requested that he investigate if the civil liberties and constitutional rights of Pennsylvanians have been violated by our state government during this pandemic.”
He stated that he is requesting an investigation into the Wolf administration’s current policies in the letter:
“This unprecedented public health emergency has tested our Commonwealth’s resilience in many ways. But just as the emergency has tested the resilience of our citizens, so too has it tempted the authority of our Executive. Overbroad limitations on commerce have unduly paralyzed regions of Pennsylvania, the Second Amendment rights of our citizens have been impacted, and many fear their rights to worship will remain constrained. Certainly, we recognize the reasonableness of temporary restrictions to preserve public safety, but we are also vigilant in defending against the encroachment on inviolate constitutional rights.”
The letter concludes by asking Barr to direct his attention to “ensure the constitutional rights of Pennsylvanians to work, speak, defend themselves, and worship remain inviolate.”
In March, Wolf closed businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining” to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has sickened more than 44,000 Pennsylvania residents and killed over 2,100. The CDC is still recommending people avoid gatherings of 10 or more in areas where there is still a confirmed spread of COVID-19.
In a recent interview, Barr mentioned that he had not yet “seen a need” for the Justice Department to intervene on governors’ restrictions.
Meanwhile, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced on Thursday he is opening an investigation into how the Department of Community and Economic Development ran Wolf’s business shutdown waiver program, under which tens of thousands of businesses applied to remain open during the pandemic.
The pandemic and the state’s efforts to contain the virus have caused economic devastation, throwing nearly 1.7 million Pennsylvania residents out of work since mid-March.
“During this pandemic, obviously our economy has taken a huge hit. The question we need to find out is, could more businesses have been opened?” DePasquale said in a video news conference. “And was this done in a fair process?”
Many businesses have complained about a process they contend has been slow and arbitrary. Senate Republicans had been pressing for an audit, and Wolf agreed to it, according to DePasquale, a fellow Democrat.
“A lot of businesses do believe it was cumbersome and not fair. That’s their point of view and we’re going to investigate their claims,” DePasquale said.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press.
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