Attorney General, William Barr (above, right), warned state and local governments not to infringe upon civil liberties in a recent two-page memo promising that such violations would receive harsh treatment from the Trump Administration.
The memo says, “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.”
The top law enforcement officer in the land doesn’t appear to be playing around. Violations of civil liberties have abounded in recent days, with unconstitutional crackdowns on worship and peaceful assembly being commonplace. Churches have been ordered shut, pastors have been arrested, and church-attendees have been ticketed or fined.
Montana has not been immune to such over-reaches of power. The Carter County health-nurse, Raquel Williams (above, left) has ordered a grocery store shut, stopped into people’s homes to interrogate them about who was visiting, canceled hunting season for out-of-county Montana residents, and declared hunting a “non-essential activity.” The sheriff of Carter County, Neil Kittlemann, claimed that there are no First Amendment rights during a pandemic. Madison County restricted property owners from leasing their rentals and RV park spots, exceeding the governor’s orders. Powder River County provided snitching reports to citizens. Lewis & Clark County restricted access to public lands and told residents to tell on those enjoying the outdoors. Valley County wanted out-of-town workers to wear armbands restricting them from doing business (they then walked it back).
Barr’s memo wrote, “For example, the Constitution also forbids, in certain circumstances, discrimination against disfavored speech and undue interference with the national economy.”
This would include, of course, Raquel Williams’ ordering the Branson Grocery Store shut and her attempt to shut down a gas station near Broadus, as well as her reportedly encouraging a boycott of Branson Grocery and arranging for travel out of the county to attend a different grocery store.
Barr continued, “Many policies that would be unthinkable in regular times have become commonplace in recent weeks, and we do not want to unduly interfere with the important efforts of state and local officials to protect the public. But the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis. We must, therefore, be vigilant to ensure its protections are preserved, at the same time that the public is protected.”