Americans Ordered to Stay Home
As of writing on April 7, almost 311 million Americans are under lockdown. 45 states have asked their citizens to only leave their residences for essential purposes under so-called “stay-at-home” orders. While the name, scope, and definition of these orders vary from state to state and county to county, they have all been implemented in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19. The idea is to “flatten the curve” by slowing the spread of the disease to not overwhelm our healthcare system and cause unnecessary deaths. While these measures may be necessary, they raise some legal and civil rights questions. What are the penalties associated with violating these orders? Under what authority can these directives be given? What about First Amendment rights? The Trump Administration has decided that it will leave issuing stay-at-home orders to the states so the specifics of any directive vary. The National Law Review says, “The power to issue such orders are state specific and are based in from [sic] state constitutional, statutory, and regulatory frameworks. They must be reviewed on a bespoke basis by anyone affected that wishes to understand their application, enforcement mechanisms, and judicial review availability and proceedings.” In general, these policies are a last resort when an outbreak is nearly unavoidable and are limited in duration, usually 30 days. Penalties for disobeying stay-at-home orders vary from state to state but currently include citations, fines, and arrest in some cases; most of these measures are being used sparingly and only in extreme situations, as most police departments across the country are instructing their officers to use less punitive and more moderate approaches. “It might be time to fall back on those community-oriented policing skills,” Lynn Cottier JD of Lexipol says, “Connect with people (from a safe distance, of course) and spread the word. Be persuasive and knowledgeable. The front lines of this particular war may call for a more creative approach.” Even with these tempered enforcement policies, many citizens are still concerned about their civil rights. All of these orders challenge the First Amendment as they directly infringe on “the right of the people peaceably to assemble”. To those who are concerned, I offer this: drastic times call for drastic measures. Our country is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis and because of that, unprecedented actions must be taken to ensure public health. If we do not act swiftly and effectively, there will be no one left to enjoy their Constitutional rights at all.