William Barr Orders Federal Prosecutors to Look Out for Civil Rights Violations During Coronavirus Lockdowns

Barr: "The Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis."


As local and state governments across the country continue to enforce strict lockdown measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Attorney General William Barr issued a memo Monday ordering federal prosecutors across the country to be "be on the lookout for state and local directives that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens."

The memo to U.S. attorneys' offices across the country said that the Department of Justice may have an obligation to intervene in federal court "if a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID-19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections."

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has already waded into at least one such case in Greenville, Mississippi, where city officials attempted to shut down drive-in church services. The DOJ filed a statement of interest in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by one Greenville church against the city, writing that the facts "suggest that the city singled out churches for distinctive treatment."

Although local and state governments have broad emergency powers—including temporarily suspending gatherings and other normally protected activities—officials still may not impose restrictions that are overly broad or discriminate against one group over another.

As Reason's Jacob Sullum detailed, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order earlier this month against the mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, who had tried to ban drive-in Easter services.

Reason has been tracking absurd and overbearing government coronavirus crackdowns, such as Pennsylvania's impressively dumb attempts to close liquor stores, undercover cops arresting home beauty business owners, and a Hawaii brewery that came under investigation for giving away free hand sanitizer.

In the memo, Barr tapped the head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, Eric Dreiband, and Matthew Schneider, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, to lead the DOJ's oversight of local and state government measures related to COVID-19.

"Many policies that would be unthinkable in regular time 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 concluded. "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 the public is protected."

One area that the Justice Department has direct control over, unlike the policies of cities and states, is the federal prison system, where tens of thousands of inmates are at risk of infection. Although Barr has ordered the Bureau of Prisons to release elderly and at-risk inmates who meet certain criteria, the rollout has been contradictory and confusing, leaving inmates and their families in a state of constant dread.

NEXT: 'We Have Flattened That Curve': Some States Move Forward With Reopening Their Economies

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “be on the lookout for state and local directives that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.”

    In addition to New Jersey’s quarantine bullshit, can we address the gun laws?

    1. can we address the gun laws

      You bet. How are patriots going to have a local shootout with the police when said police infringe on the liberty of liberty-lovers? Is it time now to go bomb a federal building like your buddy Timmy M.? He thought they deserved it.

      1. Pay your mortgage, dumb fuck. McVeigh’s economic views lined up with yours.

      2. Points to an incident a generation ago. Wonders why he gets laughed at.

      3. Sooo, dropped on your head a lot as a baby, or eating paint chips?

      4. Is it time to call in your buddies that ran Waco and Ruby Ridge? Two can play that stupid game.

  2. The constitution has been suspended ever since that boot-licking basset hound got appointed as Attorney General.

    1. Well, he was only appointed April 4th 2019.
      The US Constitution was suspended 9/12/01.

    2. “Boot-licking basset hound”? Basset hounds don’t live in swamps and you don’t become a member of the Deep State simply by licking boots. I still have seen no reason to change my prediction that when (or if) Durham ever completes his investigation and Barr either Comey’s a “rules were violated but no reasonable prosecutor” or punts a “well this certainly merits a Congressional investigation” response, a lot of people are suddenly going to remember that Barr was Bush’s AG and therefore should never have been trusted to watch Trump’s back.

  3. Barr tapped the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Eric Dreiband, and Matthew Schneider, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan

    I wonder if Matthew Schneider was tapped to send a message to Gov Whitmer.

  4. >>>be on the lookout

    lol strongly-worded memos to follow. with footnotes!

  5. Notice the champion of the surveillance state is only looking for state and local intrusions – the routine federal intelligence gathering that requires back doors be built into communications systems for his convenience don’t count.

    1. The federal government has never liked competition.

    2. Exactly. He seems to have cherry picked a few violations that don’t impact how he has to do business. I won’t hold my breath for his calls to end the Patriot Act…

  6. Ramadan started April 23, any exemptions not afforded other groups?

    1. I asked the same question a few days ago and I’m guessing not. If Muslims were permitted to gather in groups after Easter worshipers were targeted for doing the same, the media would be all over that sort of shit like ducks on a June bug. Since I haven’t seen anything on CNN about Muslims getting special treatment I have to conclude that no special treatment is being given.

    2. From what I’ve heard, even Muslim countries are restricting normal Ramadan activities.

    3. the Ramadan call to prayer is now being broadcast in Minneapolis

      1. not a quarantine exemption so much as a noise ordinance exemption

          1. Istanbul is still awesome though

  7. The federal government has supremacy in constitutional violations.

  8. He is specifically protecting Evangelicals’ First Amendment right to infect others with dangerous diseases. The memo is clear.

  9. How about looking into the Federal government’s violation of General Flynn’s civil rights. And prosecutorial abuse of discretion.

    1. They should look in the mirror and do less of whatever they’re up.

      1. up “to”

    2. Actually Barr did that. That’s how Flynn’s defense team got all that recent exculpatory evidence. Barr investigated the prosecutors in the Flynn case and forced them to turn over what his investigators found. He’s the reason Flynn’s case will likely get tossed shortly.

  10. Says Mr. Barr, the evil man who is seeking to destroy encryption in America. You don’t know, and don’t care, what the Constitution says, Mr. Barr. Apparently, states destroying jobs and businesses isn’t a Constitutional violation. Without a way to support oneself and/or family, exactly what good is everything else? The Department of Injustice has an appropriate leader.

  11. >Barr: “The Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis.”

    There’s some Orwellian doublespeak! Of course it’s suspended (ignored) with countless infringements all over the USA! After all, that which Barr cites is mere ink-on-paper and of no consequence. It’s been ignored time and time again since before the ink was even dry on the document and false promise. Actions, on the other hand, matter. Despite their rhetoric, tyrants like Barr are ramping up the infringements faster than the spread of a Chinese flu, however!

  12. Civil “rights” don’t exist, but thanks anyway.
    “As the interned American citizens of Japanese descent learned, the Bill of Rights provided them with little protection when it was needed.” ~ Glenn Harlan Reynolds

  13. Makes $140 to $180 consistently online work and I got $16894 in one month electronic acting from home.I am a step by step understudy and work essentially one to two or three hours in my additional time.Everybody will complete that obligation and monline akes extra cash by simply open this link……
    HERE…… Read More

  14. He’s looking for states violating civil rights?

    That would be most of them.

  15. Don’t worry, he just means civil rights violations against white men.

    The rest of life will go on like normal for everyone else

  16. It’s all code for take care of the blacks and continue on making the white male extinct and no the second amendment doesn’t count!

  17. “The Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis.”

    Yeah, they already did that about 20 years ago…

  18. I’m glad someone recognizes that the First Amendment does not include the word ‘except.’ Lockdown, stay-at-home or whatever else you want to call these house arrest orders are patently unconstitutional. First Amendment says the rights of the people to assemble peaceably cannot be infringed. The Fifth Amendment says we cannot be denied liberty without due process. Anyone out there remember going to a hearing before the lockdown orders came out? Governors may have broad powers but they cannot supplant the Constitution under any circumstances.

    1. I call it a ‘bring your own camp’ internment.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.