ACLU Comment on DOJ Intervention in Certain Challenges to COVID-19 Public Health Restrictions

May 22, 2020 1:30 pm

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NEW YORK — ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero issued the following statement in response to the Department of Justice’s attempts to support select challenges to state and local COVID-19 public health restrictions:

“As a general matter, legal scrutiny of emergency executive powers is a good thing, but when that scrutiny is driven by politics, it breeds mistrust, confusion, and panic. On the one hand, the Administration claims the current health outbreak is overhyped so we must open religious institutions, and then on the other hand the Administration claims the outbreak is so bad we must shut down asylum. They can’t have it both ways.

“There are many injustices crying out for Justice Department intervention — from the need to defend the due process rights of those in detention, to safeguard access to lawful abortion services, to ensuring the right to vote in a pandemic. On those issues, the Justice Department has stayed silent — or even cheered on — as states have exploited this crisis to suppress the right to vote and as governors have abused emergency powers to gut press freedoms and restrict abortion access.

“The Justice Department shouldn’t play politics or pick its favorite rights to further a partisan agenda. When fundamental rights are curtailed, the courts and the Justice Department have an important role to play. Governments must have the ability to address the pandemic based on public-health concerns, but it’s good to be deeply skeptical of any government restrictions targeting religious freedom, freedom of expression, and the right to vote. Any restrictions need to be limited, time-bound, and driven by the science and the law. The courts and the Justice Department need to protect rights and liberties and stay out of playing politics.”

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACLU and its 54 state chapters have filed over 120 legal actions nationwide to protect the due process rights of those in detention, safeguard the right to vote, preserve abortion rights, and guard against unjustified government overreach. Additional information on those actions is here:

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