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Barr tells prosecutors to watch for unlawful coronavirus policies

Attorney General William Barr speaks during a press conference with members of the coronavirus task force in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, April 1. Photo by Oliver Contreras/UPI
Attorney General William Barr speaks during a press conference with members of the coronavirus task force in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, April 1. Photo by Oliver Contreras/UPI | License Photo

April 28 (UPI) -- U.S. Attorney General William Barr has instructed federal prosecutors throughout the country to be on the lookout for state and local directives implemented in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic that violate the Constitution and the rights of citizens.

In a memo on Monday, the country's chief prosecutor told U.S. attorneys that they must stay vigilant to ensure staunch measures recently implement to curb COVID-19 infections and deaths do not break the law, and if they do the Justice Department may have to intercede.

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"If a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID-19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court," he said.

Since the first COVID-19 infection was reported in the United States on Jan. 21, the country has been upended as schools and businesses have been shuttered and millions of Americans have been ordered to stay home aside from purchasing essentials such as food and medicine -- rules Barr said were unthinkable a few weeks ago.

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And while the restrictions "have been necessary" to fight the coronavirus that has killed more than 56,000 people in the country, they are also "tremendous burdens on the daily lives of all Americans," he said.

"We do not want to unduly interfere with the important efforts of state and local officials to protect the public," he said. "But the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis. We must, therefore, be vigilant to ensure its protections are preserved at the same time that the public is protected."

The memo follows protesters in several states having railed against lockdown measures, calling for them to be lifted. President Donald Trump has also been keen on reopening the country, encouraging governors to remove measures as quickly and safely as possible.

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"We want them to do it, we recommend that they do it as quickly as possible but safely," Trump said Monday during a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. "We want everyone to be safe."

In his memo, Barr directed Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Rights division, and Matthew Schneider, an attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, to oversee and coordinate the monitoring of state and local policies and "if necessary, take action to correct them."

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