Justice Department Says Maine’s Campground Pandemic Restrictions Violate Constitution

May 29, 2020 Updated: May 29, 2020

Maine’s order requiring out-of-state residents to self-quarantine prior to entering campgrounds, a requirement that does not apply to state residents, is discriminatory and violates constitutional rights, the Justice Department (DOJ) said.

The DOJ made the arguments in a statement of interest (pdf) filed on Friday in a lawsuit pending in a federal court filed by campground and restaurant owners as well as individuals in Maine, who are asking the judge to lift Maine Gov. Janet Mills’s executive order.

Mills issued an executive order on April 3 that required the closure of all lodging operations within the state, including campgrounds and RV parks. It also required residents and non-residents who were traveling into Maine to “immediately self-quarantine for 14 days.” Violations of the order may result in up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Mills issued a subsequent executive order on April 29, easing some of the measures put in to mitigate the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic. That order contained the state’s restarting plan, which allows the state’s campgrounds and RV parks to open to Maine residents on May 22. However, the order stipulated that those locations are only opened to out-of-state residents on June 1 after they have completed the 14-day quarantine.

“Maine likely has transgressed the Constitution’s limits by discriminating between Maine residents and out-of-state residents with respect to the ability to patronize campgrounds and RV parks within the State,” the DOJ wrote in its court brief. “Residents from outside Maine must self-quarantine for 14 days before they can enjoy these facilities, while Mainers who have not ventured outside the State may frequent them at any time.”

Epoch Times Photo
A woman plays with her son on Crescent Beach in Auburn, Maine, on May 26, 2020. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal via AP)

“That is true regardless of whether the Maine resident has recently come in contact with others suffering from COVID-19 or whether the out-of-stater hails from an area relatively unscathed by the pandemic (such as nearby Vermont) or a hotspot (such as New York City). And this self-quarantine requirement has caused real harm for Maine’s campground businesses, at a time when Americans most need their States to support efforts to reopen businesses in a manner consistent with public health,” the DOJ added.

It added that the self-quarantine requirement had “contributed to the significant economic harm” to campground business that “rely on out-of-state patrons each summer for their income.” The department said one of the plaintiff’s, Bayley’s Campground, received over 700 reservation cancellations, refunded over $150,000 in reservation fees, and lost over $260,000 in revenue.

The Constitution does not permit such discriminatory treatment, the DOJ argued, saying that while the state may adopt reasonable measures to protect its residents, it cannot discriminate between Mainers and other U.S. citizens “unless that distinction is substantially related to ensuring public safety.”

“The United States Constitution requires government to protect the privileges and immunities of all citizens in our nation,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division said in a statement.

“These privileges and immunities include the right of Americans to travel freely anywhere in our country, and state governments cannot limit the right of out-of-state Americans to travel to their state unless doing so is substantially related to protecting the public safety.”

The statement of claim was filed as part of efforts to ensure that state and local measures do not run afoul of constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.

Attorney General William Barr directed federal prosecutors on April 27 to keep an eye out for lockdown measures aimed at controlling the spread of the CCP virus that may be infringing the constitution.

Barr said during an interview on the Hugh Hewitt radio show on April 21 that the DOJ might get involved in lawsuits against governors’ lockdown measures if states continue to extend them as COVID-19 cases subside.

During the interview, he said the DOJ has been monitoring the types of restrictions governors are imposing during the pandemic. If the DOJ believes any restrictions go “too far,” he said, the department may first attempt to negotiate with the states to roll back or adjust the orders.

If the governors don’t cooperate, and individuals bring lawsuits against them, then the DOJ may file a statement of interest in support of the individuals bringing the cases, he said.

Follow Janita on Twitter: @janitakan