Attorney General William Barr warned Tuesday that the Justice Department would consider additional intervention if state stay-at-home orders prove too restrictive as the country weighs its reemergence from the shutdown forced by the coronavirus pandemic.
"We’re looking carefully at a number of these rules that are being put into place," Barr said in an interview with conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt. "And if we think one goes too far, we initially try to jawbone the governors into rolling them back or adjusting them. And if they’re not and people bring lawsuits, we file statement of interest and side with the plaintiffs."
Barr comments come as President Donald Trump and governors are grappling over how the nation should restart a dormant economy – a debate that has stirred demonstrations in some parts of the country where states already have begun loosening restrictions aimed at prohibiting large gatherings.
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"We’re at sort of a sensitive stage where we’re really transitioning to starting a process of trying to get the nation back up and running," the attorney general said. "As lawsuits develop, as specific cases emerge in states, we’ll take a look at them."
Last week the Justice Department took action in Mississippi, siding with a church in Greenville where worshipers were cited by police for attending a drive-in service this month.
The service took place a day after the city issued a prohibition against drive-in services, an order that appeared to conflict with a state action designating churches and religious activities as essential operations as long as they complied with guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Mississippi Department of Health.
Barr said some of the state restrictions are placing "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," Barr said. "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 ... 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."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Barr on coronavirus lockdowns: DOJ may intervene if states go too far