On Monday, Attorney General William Barr issued a memorandum titled "Balancing Public Safety with the Preservation of Civil Rights," in which he directed the Justice Department to take legal action against certain coronavirus lockdown rules imposed by states.
"As the Department of Justice explained recently in guidance to states and localities taking steps to battle the pandemic, even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers," wrote Barr. "The Constitution also forbids, in certain circumstances, discrimination against disfavored speech and undue interference with the national economy."
"If a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court," continued Barr. "I am therefore directing the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Eric Dreiband, and Matthew Schneider; the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, to oversee and coordinate our efforts to monitor state and local policies and, if necessary, take action to correct them."
Barr's action comes as right-wing groups increasingly protest stay-at-home orders, particularly those that restrict dangerously large church gatherings and require the closure of nonessential businesses. Polls show the public broadly supports most of these measures.
Read the full memo here.