U.S. Attorney General William Barr said Friday that with the apparent flattening of the coronavirus infection curve, it is time for the nation to start peeling back some of the social distancing restrictions imposed by state governments in recent months to slow the spread of the virus.
“Now that the curve has been flattened, the rate of the spread has been slowed, our system has not been overwhelmed and it’s time to adjust to the situation," Barr said during a question and answer session with members of the public on Twitter. "It’s time to start rolling back some of these restrictions in an orderly and sensible way.”
In his video response, Barr praised President Donald Trump’s three-phase plan for reopening the national economy as a “sensible framework.”
The plan announced last week recommends a 14-day downward trajectory in documented coronavirus cases before individual states can phase out the restrictions. At least 31 states have announced plans to reopen to varying degrees, even though many have not met the White House's guidelines.
Barr, who has been vocally critical of some of the social distancing restrictions as overly excessive, warned again that the Justice Department will consider blocking local and state measures that deprive citizens of religious freedom and other civil liberties.
"We’re on the lookout for restrictions that are too widespread, too generalized and are unduly discriminatory toward liberty such as religious liberty and speech and we’ll try to work with state and local governments to address these concerns and in an appropriate case we’ll consider taking action," Barr said in response to a question.
In a memo released on Monday, Barr directed the nation’s top federal prosecutors to be “on the lookout for state and local directives that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.”
“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,” Barr wrote. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The memo reflects Barr’s growing impatience with stay-at-home orders and other social distancing measures implemented by state governors since early March in a bid to stem the tide of the coronavirus and save lives. Opposition to the restrictions led to rallies in several state capitals last week.
In an interview with Fox News in April, Barr said some of the social distancing measures enforced by state governors were “draconian.”
The Justice Department later filed a “statement of interest” in support of a church suing the city of Greenville, Mississippi, over a ban on drive-in services.