Lawsuits over forced coronavirus restrictions, quarantines unlikely to succeed, says legal expert

Screengrab ABC

With civil liberties in America disappearing faster than toilet paper and hand soap, and small business owners being forced to shut down family businesses which may never reopen, the idea of turning to the courts for relief is not isolated.

Nor is it likely to succeed.

Americans are not accustomed to being told what they can and cannot do, and more importantly, where they can and cannot gather in large groups. After all, the right of the people to assemble peaceably is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

But lawsuits challenging quarantines and restrictions on public gatherings due to the Chinese virus COVID-19 may be doomed to failure, according to ABA Journal, which is the flagship magazine of the American Bar Association.

Citing experts interviewed by Bloomberg Law and the New York Times, ABA Journal reported that the government has broad powers to handle a public health crisis.

Arizona State University law professor James Hodge told Bloomberg Law that lawsuits are unlikely to be successful unless they are challenging “a truly egregious practice.”

“The idea that you’re going to walk into court and object vehemently and successfully against known, proven public health social distancing measures that are being employed currently is not a winner,” he suggested.

New York University’s Elizabeth Goitein told the Times that state and local officials who declare emergencies have broader powers than the federal government.

“The federal government has more money, but state and local officials have police powers, essentially their authority to maintain public health and safety,” Goitein said.

Goitein, a director of the liberty and national security program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s law school, said that local powers include the authority to impose curfews and quarantines, limit public gatherings, ban people and traffic from streets, ration or impose price controls on goods, and suspend alcohol consumption.

At the federal level, ABA Journal highlights Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act as the law that allows the federal government to quarantine people suspected of certain communicable diseases if they arrive in the U.S. by air, land or sea.

This authority is reportedly tasked to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There’s no question that if you’ve been exposed to the virus, but not showing currently symptoms, that there could be a quarantine order and it could be enforced by law,” Georgetown law professor Lawrence Gostin told NPR.

“But once you start getting into what might colloquially be called an en masse quarantine or a lockdown where government will actually aggressively enforce it, then you’re getting into territory that implicates the most fundamental constitutional rights and the right to freedom of movement, the right to freedom of travel,” he added.

Gostin wrote the State Emergency Health Powers Act, a model law many states have adopted in whole or in part, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Aside from U.S. citizens looking to potentially sue government agencies, there could be litigation over President Trump saying last week he will invoke a provision to stop asylum seekers and those entering the country illegally at the southern border.

The open border-loving left legally challenges the administration on just about every action taken that pertains to immigration.

Worldwide pandemic or not, this is unlikely to change.

The American Civil Liberties Union released a statement in response to the president invoking emergency powers last week to counter the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Use of emergency powers in this pandemic can be legitimate for measures grounded in science and public health and when consistent with the need to protect the health, safety, and civil liberties of us all,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project.

Shamsi added that the ACLU “will be watching closely to make sure any use of emergency powers in response to the pandemic is grounded in science and public health, not politics or discrimination.”

The problem here being that science in post-Obama America very much appears to be grounded in politics.


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