Constitutionality of Police Border Checks Questioned

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When the number of coronavirus cases started rising, several states, including Rhode Island, Florida and Texas, took the unprecedented step of setting up border checkpoints to stop nonresidents who might be carrying the virus. In Florida and Texas, state troopers require motorists from out of state and their passengers to sign forms promising to self-quarantine for 14 days. Florida, Rhode Island and Texas also require travelers to provide an address where they plan to shelter — and advise them to be prepared for a ­follow-up call or unannounced visit from health officials. At local checkpoints for people entering the Florida Keys and North Carolina’s Outer Banks, only those with a local address or proof of residency are allowed to proceed. Experts say such broad use of police to set up roadblocks is extraordinary, the Washington Post reports.

Singling out motorists with out-of-state license plates as a public health measure is irrational, some legal experts say. Doing so assumes those drivers and passengers are at higher risk of carrying the virus than residents, even if they’re coming from the same COVID-19 hot spot. It’s also unconstitutional, some say, to impede travel based on license plates.  “To stand at the border and refuse entry to another American citizen is something that I would say was unprecedented,” said John DeCarlo, a former police chief in Connecticut and director of the master’s program in criminal justice at the University of New Haven. “Certainly legal scholars will be looking at this [and] asking a lot of questions.” Some drivers say the rules prevent them from reaching their vacation homes. Six residents from Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina who say they weren’t allowed to use their second homes in the Outer Banks have sued, alleging that the closed border is unconstitutional because it discriminates against out-of-state citizens.

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