Will Coronavirus Crackdown Trample on Civil Rights?

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As the coronavirus spreads, growing segments of the U.S. population say state and federal governments are trampling on freedoms central to American life in the name of protecting public health, the Associated Press reports. A church-goer in New Hampshire says prohibitions against large gatherings violate her religious rights. A Pennsylvania golf course owner argues that gubernatorial edicts shuttering his business amount to illegal seizure of his private property. “So far, we haven’t had draconian methods, like armed police blocking people’s movement in the streets, surveillance and phone tapping,” said Larry Gostin, a public health lawyer at Georgetown University. “We are on the precipice of something that could transform American values and freedoms.”

Thousands of Americans already are confined to their homes under threat of fines and even jail. One man infected with the coronavirus in Kentucky left a hospital and refused to quarantine; an armed county deputy was posted outside his home to ensure the 53-year-old stayed put. “It’s a step I hoped I’d never have to take, but we can’t allow one person who we know has the virus to refuse to protect their neighbors,” said Gov. Andy Beshear. Authority to order shutdowns and quarantines inside states rests almost entirely with states under provisions in the U.S. Constitution ceding power not explicitly delegated to the federal government to states. Some legal scholars believe the Constitution’s Commerce Clause may vest President Donald Trump with powers to impose a national lockdown, but he’d likely have to persuade all 50 states to agree to uniform restrictions if he ever seriously contemplated such a move.

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