How to liberate Michigan

Barr is threatening states that take strong measures to slow the pandemic.

Attorney General Bill Barr directed all 93 U.S. attorneys on Monday to “be on the lookout for state and local directives” that curtail individual rights in the name of containing the novel coronavirus. 

Of course quarantines curtail individual rights, but you know what else does that? Death, and debilitating after-effects of damaged lungs and other organs. Sometimes individual rights have to give way to the rights of everyone else.

This new declaration by the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, who has heavily politicized the Justice Department during his tenure, should be read as a warning to governors and mayors that they may face challenges in federal court if they don’t move quick enough to relax restrictions.

On the other hand more people may die if they move quickly to relax restrictions.

To be fair…it’s not lotsa deaths versus zero deaths. The restrictions are bound to cause some deaths themselves – from domestic violence, from not being able to get medical help in time, from the heightened risks of extreme poverty, from risks taken to avoid extreme poverty, from suicide, and so on. It’s not risk v no risk, it’s x number of risks v y number of risks, with the informed medical opinion being that we need to slow the pandemic as a matter of urgency.

But Barr? Barr has proven himself such a shameless hack for Trump that it’s all but impossible to think he is weighing comparative risks now as opposed to being Trump’s consigliere.

Barr announced that his point men on “this important initiative” will be Matt Schneider, the Detroit-based U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, andEric Dreiband, the assistant attorney general who is best known for service as one of Ken Starr’s lieutenants during the investigation of President Bill Clinton. This seems notable because Trump has specifically decried restrictions imposed on residents by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who has been mentioned as a possible running mate for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden and leads a top battleground state in the presidential election. “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!,” Trump tweeted on April 17.

Emphasis theirs. What a funny coincidence that he picked a Michigan one and a Clinton impeachment one.

Barr did not specify any policies in the memo, but he said the duo will review what’s going on and, “if necessary,” take corrective action. “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,” the attorney general wrote.

Do we trust Barr to decide fairly where that line is? No we do not.

A few weeks ago, Barr told Laura Ingraham on Fox News that he considers some policies “draconian” and telegraphed that a hardball approach was coming. “When this period of time, at the end of April, expires, I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have,” he said, “and not just tell people to go home and hide under their bed, but allow them to use other ways — social distancing and other means — to protect themselves.”

But it’s not about “adapting.” We can’t “adapt” to this virus at this timescale – it won’t let us. Long term, maybe a race of immune-to-COVID-19 people would emerge, but lots of people who are alive now (and lots who have children and grandchildren) would like to avoid infection now.

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