Andrew McCarthy: State coronavirus restrictions — Attorney General Barr pushes back

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Attorney General Bill Barr caused something of a stir Tuesday by quipping that some of the state shelter-in-place restrictions to stem the coronavirus epidemic have been akin to “house arrest.” In essence, though, he was simply conveying the same civil-rights theory that we tracked here less than a week ago when the Justice Department intervened in a lawsuit brought by Christians whose Mississippi town was capriciously denying them the right to communal worship.

As the Civil Rights Division’s submission to the Mississippi federal court framed the matter: “There is no pandemic exception … to the fundamental liberties the Constitution safeguards.”

This is exactly the line the AG took in Tuesday’s wide-ranging interview by Hugh Hewitt. Government restrictions on liberty, whether federal, state or municipal, are only justifiable when there is a compelling public interest; and even then, they must be narrowly tailored: the least restrictive means of burdening our fundamental rights. There is no doubt that the state’s interest in preventing the spread of infectious disease is compelling; but shelter-in-place regulations can be too draconian if the state can sensibly pursue its legitimate public-safety objectives through less burdensome measures — social distancing practices, wearing protective gear, encouraging hygiene, etc.

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