Florida’s move to pull in its welcome mat may draw court challenge

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis arrives for a press conference at a mobile test site. | AP photo

TALLAHASSEE – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ attempt to secure his state border against the coronavirus intruder is an invitation to legal challenge, which could be as high as the Supreme Court because it may violate the constitution.

The Republican governor sent the National Guard on Tuesday to greet travelers to Florida’s largest airports. Passengers arriving on direct flights from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, where the number of infections is high, must quarantine for 14 days. Law enforcement officers monitor their whereabouts. The executive order also applies to people traveling by car, DeSantis said.


“As soon as this happened in Wuhan, the flights from China were switched off. As soon as Italy broke out, they stopped flights from Italy, ”DeSantis told reporters in Orlando on Wednesday. “We have an even bigger outbreak in our own country, the New York City region, and yet the flights had accelerated. We cannot do it at the state level. “

The governor’s action has been praised by some, including the White House. However, keeping people from China or Italy away from the United States is one thing. From a legal point of view, keeping New Yorkers from Florida is quite another matter.

“There is a travel law,” said Meryl Chertoff, executive director of the Georgetown State and Local Government Politics and Law Project. “Someone, a group, will sue DeSantis about it.”

This right is enshrined in a case law from 1941 when The Supreme Court examined the case of a man caught catching a relative in California that violated a law that made it a crime to help a “poor” enter the state.

The Supreme Court viewed the law badly because it targeted a specific group – the needy – and sentenced the man to California’s “Okie Law,” so called because of the depression against Oklahoma migrants judged, picked up.

“DeSantis applies the rule to a class of people and he cannot know who is sick or who is doing well,” said Chertoff. “It’s a big deal.”

As the coronavirus infections increase, All 50 governors have declared a state of emergencythat give them extensive executive power.

However, this power is not unlimited. For example, governors cannot simply send the National Guard to the border to keep people away. That would go against the constitution Trade clause that empowers the federal government to regulate international trade and the privilege and immunity clause that prohibits states from discriminating against citizens of other states.

Federal law provides that disease control and prevention centers have the power to impose intergovernmental quarantines, but this power is rarely used, said Polly Price, a professor at the Emory University School of Law in Atlanta. And the federal quarantine agency is limited to air travel, she said. Even then, the goal is to avoid group quarantines as much as possible in public health emergencies.

“Emergency declarations at all levels of government strengthen government powers to mandate actions that would be legally suspect in” normal “times,” Price said.

However, government leaders have the power to quarantine within their own borders, a power that DeSantis has used in a novel way.

State of emergency gives the leaders “all kinds of powers,” said former federal road administrator Greg Nadeau. “As this thing unfolds, we will be surprised at what we have to do and which authorities will suddenly become available. We will see some surprising things.”

The decision to isolate a certain group of Americans is no small feat for Florida. New Yorkers and their neighbors in New Jersey accounted for nearly 14 percent of the estimated 128 million people who visited Sunshine State last year, according to Visit Florida. the state agency that promotes tourism. More than 80 percent of visitors from New York arrived by plane.

These travelers help fuel Florida’s elixir of life tourism, which accounts for 9 percent of the population Tax revenue of $ 36.5 billion and fees that support the state’s $ 93 billion budget, the State Department for Economic and Demographic Research said.

Weeks before his executive decree was issued, DeSanti’s President Donald Trump called for a domestic travel ban and Trump indicated the idea of ​​March 12.

“Is there a way? Yes, if someone gets out of hand when an area gets too hot, ”the president told reporters in the Oval Office. He later said a domestic travel ban was not on the table, but DeSantis maintained the pressure.

“The administration has to deal with domestic flights from certain areas where outbreaks occur.” DeSantis told reporters the 14th of March. “We are now seeing cases where people clearly got it elsewhere in the United States and brought it here. And I think New York has only a lot of interaction given Florida’s relationship with New York people.”

Public health officials have extensive powers to quarantine people suspected or suspected of being exposed to infectious diseases. And the 1944 Public Health Act empowers the Ministry of Health and Human Services to do so Hold people and examine them violently prevent the spread of communicable diseases across national borders.

However, the courts have refused to isolate undiagnosed people for no good reason, said Frannie Edwards, deputy director of the National Road Safety Center at the Mineta Transportation Institute.

“A more refined travel ban for movements from areas of known spread in the community could be justified under this or other public health regulations,” said Edwards. Even then, she said, “people have the right to a judicial review of the order by standing up for their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.”

And interstate quarantines could do more harm than good if they come at the expense of public trust, said James Hodge, director of the Center for Public Health Law and Policy at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. He warned against reaching a turning point.

“Once you got there, you officially told the Americans that you went too far beyond our civil liberties,” Hodge told POLITICO.

The quarantine arrangement in Florida has already triggered an alarm nationwide.

“So we think we need a national approach and strategy,” said Matthew Chase, executive director of the National Association of Counties. “The last thing we want are states, cities and counties where our residents compete against each other.”

A possible precedent for DeSantis coronavirus quarantine is the 2014 Ebola crisis, when some governors forced American helpers to return from the hot zone in Africa in quarantine.

Trump wasn’t enough. Before running for president, he said US health workers suffering from Ebola victims should be prevented from returning home.

This feeling emerged in Florida eight years later.

“We don’t want them to come here,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber told POLITICO. “I don’t know of any other way to put it. We just don’t want them to come here.”

Tanya Snyder reported from Washington. Jason Delgado and Lorraine Woellert contributed to this report.

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