President Donald Trump with Attorney General William Barr in the Oval Office on February 14, 2019. (Photo Source: U.S. Department of Justice/Public Domain)
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On Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr interviewed with Hugh Hewitt about state actions dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and federal response. 

Barr put states on notice not to go too far with their restrictions.

“So initially, when you’re faced with a potential catastrophe, the government can deploy measures and even put temporary and reasonable restrictions on rights if really necessary to meet the danger. But it still has the obligation to adapt to the circumstances. Whatever powers the government has, whether it be the president or the state governor, still is bounded by constitutional rights of the individual. Our federal constitutional rights don’t go away in an emergency. They constrain what the government can do,” he said.

“And in a circumstance like this, they put on the government the burden to make sure that whatever burdens it’s putting on our constitutional liberties are strictly necessary to deal with the problem. They have to be targeted. They have to use less intrusive means if they are equally effective in dealing with the problem. And that’s the situation we’re in today. We’re moving into a period where we have to do a better job of targeting the measures we’re deploying to deal with this virus,” Barr added.

He pointed out his earlier statement that addressed religious liberty and support of a church in Mississippi but added that it is not just the freedom of religion at stake.

“I think we have to make a distinction between orders that tell people or principles that say you know; you have to keep your distance of six feet, you should be washing, you should be wearing PPE when you’re out and about. Those are fine because I think those, you know, arrest the transmission from person to person. But blunter instruments that say everyone has to shelter in place, to stay at home regardless of the situation on the ground, or you know, you shut down a business regardless of the capacity of the business to operate safely for its customers and its employees, those are very blunt instruments. And I think you know, as I say, I think we have to adapt more to the circumstances,” Barr said.

He also mentioned that he is leery of shelter-in-place orders.

“These are unprecedented burdens on civil liberties right now. You know the idea that you have to stay in your house is disturbingly close to house arrest. I’m not saying it wasn’t justified. I’m not saying in some places it might still be justified. But it’s very onerous, as is shutting down your livelihood. So these are very, very burdensome impingements on liberty, and we adopted them, we have to remember, for the limited purpose of slowing down the spread, that is bending the curve. We didn’t adopt them as the comprehensive way of dealing with this disease,” Barr argued.

“And we are now seeing that these are bending the curve, and now we have to come up with more targeted approaches,” he added.

Listen to the full interview here.

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