Updated Apr 28, 2020 - Health

Barr to prosecutors: Act on lockdown rules that violate Constitution

Attorney General Bill Barr at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., in March: Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Attorney General Bill Barr issued a memo Monday directing Department of Justice prosecutors to act against state or local authorities imposing lockdown measures that "could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens."

What they're saying: "If a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID-19 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 memo states.

"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."
— Barr memo, titled "Balancing Public Safety with the Preservation of Civil Rights"

The big picture: Barr said in an interview with radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt last Tuesday the DOJ would take legal action against leaders who "impinge on either civil rights or on the national commerce" with stay-at-home orders are "disturbingly close to house arrest."

  • "If we think one goes too far, we initially try to jawbone the governors into rolling them back or adjusting them," he told Hewitt. "If they're not and people bring lawsuits, we file statement of interest and side with the plaintiffs."
  • The DOJ did just that in a Mississippi case, resulting in the local mayor reversing a drive-in churches ban.

Go deeper: In photos: Groups protest coronavirus lockdowns across the U.S.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with details of the new DOJ directive.

Go deeper

Cities' budget woes worsen with increased social unrest

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Cities were already furloughing workers and considering cutting back essential services — including public safety — because of the dramatic drops in the local tax revenue that funds them. Now they're also dealing with turmoil in their streets.

Why it matters: "Unfortunately, the increasing levels of social unrest across the country reallocated efforts and scarce resources away from the former focus of getting state, regional and local economies back to some semblance of normalcy," per Tom Kozlik, head of municipal strategy and credit at HilltopSecurities.

Updated 17 hours ago - Health

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

The Department of Health and Human Services moved on Thursday to require that an individual's race, ethnicity, age and sex be submitted to the agency with novel coronavirus test results.

Why it matters: Some cities and states have reported the virus is killing black people at disproportionately high rates. There are gaps in the national picture of how many people of color are affected, since the data has not been a requirement for states to collect or disclose.

Jun 3, 2020 - Health

DeSantis says Florida bars and clubs can reopen this week

Outdoor restaurant in Fort Lauderdale on May 18. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday that bars and clubs will be allowed to reopen on Friday, as the state continues to scale down restrictions it put in place because of the coronavirus, WCTV reports.

Why it matters: DeSantis ordered bars and clubs to close in mid-March as one of the first actions the state took to stem the spread of the coronavirus.