The Justice Department has expressed its support for a lawsuit that argues Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker exceeded his authority in imposing sweeping stay-at-home orders to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday filed a statement of interest in the case against Pritzker, saying the protective measures meant to mitigate the outbreak of the deadly bug go beyond the governor’s remit.
“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,” said Steven D. Weinhoeft, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, in the release.
“Even during times of crisis, executive actions undertaken in the name of public safety must be lawful,” he added.
Darren Bailey, a member of the Illinois House of Representatives for the 109th district, argued in his lawsuit that Pritzker’s actions were illegal because his stay-at-home order went beyond the 30-day period imposed by the legislature.
Bailey filed the lawsuit in state court and Pritzker was ordered to respond to a motion for summary judgment by Thursday, but instead, the governor sought to get the case moved to federal court, which the DOJ argued against, saying, “the governor cannot show that any federal issue is necessarily raised in the complaint.”
“The governor of Illinois owes it to the people of Illinois to allow his state’s courts to adjudicate the question of whether Illinois law authorizes orders he issued to respond to COVID-19,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division.
Pritzker’s spokesperson responded to the DOJ statement, telling ABC7, “It’s unfortunate the Department of Justice is opposing state efforts to protect the people of Illinois from a virus that has already caused the deaths of 4,750 people here.”
Dreiband argued that, in view of the constitutionally-mandated system of divided and limited governmental power, the DOJ’s actions seek to “secure the blessings of liberty to all people in our country.”
“The Department of Justice remains committed to defending the rule of law and the American people at all times, especially during this difficult time as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dreiband said, adding, “Under our system, all public officials, including governors, must comply with the law, especially during times of crisis.”
The move is part of Attorney General William Barr’s recent initiative ordering Drieband and Matthew Schneider, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, to review state and local policies to ensure that measures imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, do not violate constitutional rights and civil liberties of Americans.
“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 may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court,” Barr said in an April 27 memorandum (pdf).
“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,” he added. “We must therefore be vigilant to ensure its protections are preserved, at the same time that the public is protected.”