Attorney General Bill Bar threatens that the Department of Justice could sue states over prolonged social distancing

  • "We have to give businesses more freedom to operate in a way that's reasonably safe," Attorney General Barr told a conservative radio host on Tuesday.

  • A report from Harvard University released this week says that to "fully remobilize the economy," the US will need to conduct 20 million tests per day. It currently conducts 150,000 per day.

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The US Department of Justice may take legal action against states that continue to impose strict measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday, the same day that more than 2,500 Americans died from COVID-19.

In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Barr conceded that tough measures, such as shelter-in-place orders, had served some good. "I'm not saying it wasn't justified," he said, "but it's very onerous."

And some state governments, he maintained, are going too far — "those situations are emerging around the country" — and infringing upon "a fundamental right or a Constitutional right," namely: to do business.

"We have to give businesses more freedom to operate in a way that's reasonably safe," he said. "To the extent that governors don't and impinge on either civil rights or on the national commerce — our common market that we have here — then we'll have to address that."

In particular, the Justice Department might join in support of private litigation, Barr said.

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His comments come after a conservative group led by Ed Meese, attorney general under former President Ronald Reagan, wrote to him urging action to address "rampant abuses of constitutional rights," Bloomberg reported.

Right-wing activists, including wealthy Trump donors, have also been organizing small-scale protests against shelter-in-place orders. President Trump has lent those protests his support. Tweeting to "liberate" states with Democratic governors, despite the fact that his administration's own stated plan for reopening the country — generally well received by public health experts — recognizes that states should determine the pace of loosening restrictions.

A report issued this week by Harvard University's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics argued that, "to fully remobilize the economy," the US would by late July need the capacity to conduct 20 million tests a day. As Mother Jones noted, the US is currently on pace to conduct just 530,000 daily tests by then — up from 150,000 today.

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