(RightWing.org) – In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous states closed their economies, stifled the free speech of those who desired to protest their governments and restricted religious freedoms. Unfortunately, the court system moves notoriously slow when fast-moving actions restrict the rights of Americans.
Throughout the spring, Attorney General William Barr repeatedly stated that the Constitution did not end because of a pandemic. Barr expressed concerns over strict measures imposed on citizens. He said some of the governors’ orders were so strict they were similar to “house arrest.”
With the support of the Department of Justice (DOJ), citizens, churches, and businesses began suing states over the harm being done to their lives and livelihoods. The results have not been favorable for governors or local officials intent on locking down their states or restricting religious liberties.
Michigan Supreme Court
Michigan had some of the strictest orders placed on its citizens anywhere in the country. One restriction was so severe that citizens could not walk across the street to talk to a neighbor.
On October 12, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) overextended her authority by issuing and renewing COVID-19 executive orders beyond April 30. The court said Whitmer used an “unlawful delegation of legislative power to the executive branch in violation of the Michigan Constitution.”
The Michigan high court said all her executive actions after April 30 “lacked any basis under Michigan law.”
Wisconsin Supreme Court
In May, the Wisconsin state Supreme Court ruled that the governor overextended his authority, saying the statewide stay-at-home order and all other mandates and restrictions be lifted. They ruled that the state legislature must approve any further restrictions.
The court also said the rule was not just unlawful, but also unenforceable.
New York and California
In October, New York placed restrictions on religious organizations. A church in each state sued, claiming they were being treated unfairly and differently than big-box retailers despite Constitutional rights to Freedom of Religion.
On Wednesday, November 25, a 5-4 vote ruling in the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) agreed with the Diocese of Brooklyn. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch said that authorities couldn’t disregard the First Amendment during a crisis. He mocked New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) for allowing people to shop and buy alcohol while suggesting it wasn’t safe to attend church.
In California, similar rules were instituted by Gov. Gavin Newsome (D). Again, the SCOTUS said the Constitution couldn’t be forgotten during a pandemic. They ordered the lower courts to lift the restrictions.
More Cases Likely to Come
As governors begin shutting down economies again, more court cases are likely to be filed as people feel their rights are being unfairly restricted. However, the courts are already beginning to have an impact on how governors behave.
Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Tom Wolf instituted new restrictions. However, he specifically exempted churches from his order. Nonetheless, restaurants and other businesses are openly defying his order across the state in a challenge to his Constitutional authority.
It’s safe to say it’s not the spring of 2020. People, and the courts, appear less open to harsh or strict lockdowns.
We’ll see what the courts do moving forward and if they continue to preserve Constitutional norms and liberties.
Don Purdum, Independent Political Analyst
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