Emergency orders during COVID-19 crisis under legal scrutiny

Posted at 5:51 PM, Apr 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-29 18:25:30-04

(WXYZ) — We all want to stop the spread of COVID-19. We all also do not want to see our rights violated.

Right now, the Justice Department is looking into whether states and local governments are violating your constitutional rights in the effort to address the COVID-19 crisis.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider in Detroit is leading the effort.
There is no question in an emergency, governors, under the law, have a lot of power to take action to protect lives. Considering that, I asked U.S Attorney Matthew Schneider what he was looking for as he works to make sure our constitutional rights are protected.

U.S Attorney Matthew Schneider is reviewing cases against states and local governments around the country. Some raise what he says are legitimate questions about some emergency actions taken to fight COVID-19.

“Such as does that infringe on your right to associate. Is there some kind of commerce that is being blocked across state lines? Those are all arguments. I think the chief one that we have looked at is freedom of worship because it is such a basic right our country is rooted on,” Schneider says.

The first case he has decided to get involved with is in Greenville. Mississippi. He believes the constitutional right to freedom of religion was violated when people participating in a drive-up worship service were ticketed.

“When, on the same day, you could take your car, roll down the window, go across town and get a burger. So, they were treating religion differently from other things,” Schneider says.

In the meantime - as restrictions are eased up and it becomes clear something was temporary - courts often dismiss cases. That has happened here in Michigan.

“And so we are now in the process of looking at the new lawsuits that are being brought under the governor’s new executive order,” says Schneider.

“They want the chance and ability to get back to work and they know they can do it safely, says Daniel McCarthy.

He is an attorney at Butzel Law who represents 5 Michigan businesses.
They say the governor doesn’t have the right to close businesses without due process. Even if rules change, he wants actions taken to change the process in case there is a second wave of COVID-19.

“The courts need to intervene to define the limits of how far executive power goes,” he says.

As the Justice Department reviews case like this one, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel promised to defend the state, saying, “As a former Deputy Attorney General for the State of Michigan, we’re confident that US Attorney Matthew Schneider is familiar with the concept of state sovereignty and the state’s power to make autonomous decisions for its citizens, without interference from the federal government. ”

“However, it is also important to know these orders have to be reasonable and they have to be temporary,” Schneider says.

To be clear the Justice Department will not be starting any cases against states or government officials. Rather it will be inserting its voice into lawsuits already filed for the court to hear.

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