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Justice Department joins push against Illinois coronavirus restrictions

DOJ suggested Gov. Pritzker has exceeded his authority with his stay at home orders, and also sent a warning letter to LA Mayor Eric Garcetti
Image: JB Pritzker
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker answers questions from the media during his daily press briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic from his office at the Illinois State Capitol, in Springfield, Ill. on May 22, 2020.Justin L. Fowler / The State Journal-Register via AP

The Justice Department is adding its support to a lawsuit challenging the pandemic-related stay at home restrictions in Illinois.

On Friday, DOJ lawyers filed a statement of interest backing a lawsuit filed by Illinois state Rep. Darren Bailey, a Republican who charges Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker's emergency orders to help the state cope with the pandemic have exceed his authority.

“However well-intentioned they may be, the executive orders appear to reach far beyond the scope of the 30-day emergency authority granted to the governor under Illinois law,” Steven D. Weinhoeft, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, said in a statement. “Even during times of crisis, executive actions undertaken in the name of public safety must be lawful."

The filing also urges that Bailey's suit, which was moved from state court to federal court earlier this week, be moved back to state court.

“The governor of Illinois owes it to the people of Illinois to allow his state’s courts to adjudicate the question of whether Illinois law authorizes orders he issued to respond to COVID-19,” said Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division.

Pritzker has called Bailey's suit "insulting" and "dangerous."

In a press release, the DOJ said it was taking the action as part of Attorney General William Barr’s April 27, 2020 initiative directing Dreiband to review state and local policies to ensure that civil liberties are being protected during the pandemic. There have been over 105,000 recorded cases of coronavirus in the state and over 4,700 deaths, according to the NBC News coronavirus tracker.

A spokeswoman for Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, whose office is representing Pritzker, told NBC Chicago their office "will continue to defend the governor’s constitutional and statutory right to act to protect the health and safety of all Illinois residents."

Drieband on Friday also sent a letter to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat, and Los Angeles County Health Director Barbara Ferrer warning that long-term lockdowns due to the coronavirus "may be both arbitrary and unlawful."

The letter referenced several statements and media appearances by both that talk about stay at home requirements that may remain in effect until vaccines are developed to fight the disease, and called it a "heavy handed approach." It said the agency recognizes the duty the city and county have to protect the health and safety of residents but that authority "is not limitless, and must be exercised reasonably."