Attorney General William Barr has called for curtailing some of the restrictive coronavirus measures imposed by local and state governments.
“It is time to start rolling back some of these restrictions in an orderly and sensible way and the president has provided his Opening the United States Again plan that provides a sensible approach — framework — to that,” Mr. Barr said.
Mr. Barr’s comments came Friday in a question-and-answer session on Twitter where he also addressed other issues including coronavirus-fraud crimes and the release of inmates from federal prisons to stop the virus’ spread.
During the session Mr. Barr revived his frequent criticism of rules put in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. He has slammed some of the restrictions as “draconian” and last week directed U.S. attorneys to take legal action if a state or legal measure violates Americans’ constitutional rights.
The nation’s top cop said the government “unquestionably” has broad emergency powers during a pandemic, but cautioned that doesn’t mean it can get away with suspending civil liberties.
“The Bill of Rights doesn’t go away during a crisis like this, but what it does do is it requires the government to justify any restrictions as truly necessary and ensure there are not other ways of addressing the government’s interests that are less burdensome on our rights,” he said.
He said when the pandemic first struck, it was appropriate to impose social distancing and other measures because the virus “was very contagious and we didn’t want it to overwhelm our health care system.”
But now that the curve has been flattened and the hospitals are not overwhelmed, it is time to end some of the restrictive measures, he said.
In response to a question from Rep. Bobby Rush, Illinois Democrat, Mr. Barr addressed concerns about the coronavirus sweeping through the federal prison system, saying the Bureau of Prisons is moving to release 5,000 federal inmates since the pandemic began and 1,000 more potential releases are in the pipeline.
He said only nonviolent inmates are being released and the government is ensuring all recently released offenders have a place to stay. He also detailed policies that are slowing inmate releases, including a mandatory 14-day quarantine and checks to make sure recently sprung offenders have a place to go.