News & Politics

AG Barr Warns of 'Slippery Slope' Away from Civil Liberties After 'Draconian' COVID-19 Measures

Attorney General William Barr speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Briefing Room, Monday, March 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

During this pandemic we’ve seen churches busted, paddleboarders arrested, parents handcuffed for playing ball with their kids on a playground, and threats of arrest for not wearing a mask.

For civil libertarians, it’s scary out there.

Attorney General William Barr is also concerned about the loss of civil liberties after this National Emergency goes away and, as he put it, the “draconian” measures that keep people locked up in their homes are over.

Barr told Fox News Host Laura Ingraham on the “Ingraham Angle” program that he believes the way the Trump administration has set up its response – state and count- led responses with the federal government as a backstop – has been a check on civil liberties: “The federal system is a form of protecting liberty. To have the government closest to the people make those decisions so I think we do have that form of protection.”

But he sees potential for future mischief-making,

I’m very concerned about slippery slope in terms of continuing encroachments on personal liberty. I do think that during the emergency, appropriate, reasonable steps are fine.

There is a power for government to take extraordinary steps in genuine emergencies. That obviously creates a slippery slope. What do you call an emergency? And I am concerned that we not get into the business of declaring everything an emergency and then using these kinds of sweeping extraordinary steps.

Obviously, this invisible enemy, as the president calls the coronavirus, is a bonafide, existential emergency, but what Barr is getting at is the hangover effect it leaves and how local officials could seek to use emergency powers for their own personal political issues. Global warming comes to mind.

We’ve seen the abuse of so-called emergency powers around the country in state and local governments, as just a small example. Lawmakers liberally sprinkle run-of-the-mill legislative bills with “emergency clauses” that accelerate their implementation and prevent citizens from voting on them. It’s a farce.

Barr said he’d be “a little concerned about … tracking of people going forward over long periods of time,” which was in answer to Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ suggestion that the U.S. “eventually” issue “digital certificates to show who has recovered [from COVID-19] or been tested recently or when we have a vaccine who has received it.”

But does this concern about encroachment of civil liberties mean he disagrees with how President Trump has handled the coronavirus emergency? Hardly.

…[G]iven where we were back in March, I think the president has made the right decisions. I think the president has made the right decisions for the right reasons – I think against the advice of many people he closed the borders. And I think when the history of this is written that’s going to have saved a lot of lives.

He said that this virus has taught all of America about the need for border security.

Border security helps control disease, he says.

…as horrible as this is and as tragic as it is, there are a couple of good things that can flow from this experience and one is to appreciate again the importance of borders and controlling who is coming in the country. I’ve felt for a long time, as much as people talk about global warming, the real threats to human beings are microbes and being able to control disease. And it starts with controlling your border. So I think people will be attuned to more protective measures.

He told Ingraham that the U.S. needs to secure its supply chain to make sure that the country never gets into this “crazy situation” again with China having control over the health of the American people.

Barr says his personal response to COVID-19 is taking his temperature every day at the office and wearing a mask, which he joked has a “smiley face” on it. Whenever he visits President Trump he takes a COVID-19 test.