Republican Ron DeSantis of Florida started the trend earlier this week, trying to discourage what he called “ruthless” travel by sending the National Guard to Florida airports for incoming passengers from New York and New Jersey to report that they need to isolate themselves 14 days. DeSantis announced on Friday that it would step up efforts and set up state police checkpoints on various highways to give similar instructions to people arriving from New Orleans.
The governors’ new volleys arrive in DeSantis less than two weeks ago publicly called on Trump restrict travel from the most infected parts of the United States to its state.
Trump confirmed that he had discussed the issue with DeSantis, a close political ally.
“We are working with the states and are considering other restrictions,” Trump told reporters the same day.
However, the White House has not set any domestic travel limits, although Trump continues to boast that its decision to restrict travel from China and Europe has dramatically delayed the spread of the virus in the United States.
Trump was evasive on Friday when asked about the issue during a White House briefing.
“We are very much in quarantine,” said Trump, although the federal government only issued guidelines for domestic travel. “We are very strong when it comes to people who don’t leave certain states and go to other states.”
“Can we go to a harder level?” Trump said later. “We can, but it creates other problems.”
If anything, Trump appears to have moved in the other direction, signaling that he wishes lockdown measures will soon be lifted across so much of the country to mitigate the economic damage the nation is facing.
As a result, governors are stepping in and creating a variety of travel restrictions to curb the spread of the virus in their states.
Raimondo, the governor of Rhode Island, used a blunt language to defend her step.
“There is no other choice. I have to make decisions that I believe are in the best interest to keep the Rhode Islanders alive,” she said.
“We don’t close our border per se,” she added. “We say that if you want to take refuge in Rhode Island, you have to be in quarantine for 14 days, and we, the people of Rhode Island, are planning to enforce it.”
Governor Greg Abbott (R-Texas) was similarly direct, saying he was trying to prevent the increasingly painful scenes in New York from happening in his state.
“We don’t want to be in a situation New York is in,” said Abbott. “The three-state area of New York is the center of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.”
Awkward for the White House, Abbott repeatedly said that his decision to impose an “obligatory self-quarantine” on visitors from the New York region was based on discussions with the two most prominent federal physicians who advised Trump on the pandemic and often flanked him daily press conferences: Dr. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx.
In fact, Abbott said he added New Orleans people to the quarantine list after Birx specifically suggested it over the phone. “DR. Birx mentioned that it would also be helpful,” he said.
At the White House meeting on Friday, Birx said she advised the New Yorkers to “voluntarily isolate themselves and take care of themselves.”
Abbott said the non-compliance was a crime that could result in a fine of up to $ 1,000 and a prison sentence of up to 180 days. Raimondo has also been fined or arrested for violating her quarantine order.
However, the Texas regulation only applies to air travel and not road travel – an enigmatic gap, especially for travelers from New Orleans just four hours’ drive from the Texas state border.
While Raimondo said she accepted that her state could be a haven for some fearful New Yorkers, Massachusetts governor Baker sent a blunt message: Stay away.
“Don’t travel to our communities, especially if you have symptoms,” he told reporters at a Boston morning press conference.
Baker’s travel-related policy may be the most comprehensive of its kind from governors to date: it urges all visitors everywhere to quarantine themselves for 14 days. However, he admitted to reporters that there were no real muscles behind it.
“I would call it this: instruction and advice,” he said. “There is no enforcement mechanism.”
In fact, none of the government measures seem to be as effective as a federal quarantine order. Legal experts say Trump could ban travel from virus hotspots like New York City or New Orleans to other states.
When asked if the temperature of incoming travelers could possibly be measured, Baker suggested that one reason why he would go no further was concern over federal powers to control international traffic.
“We’re discussing what we can and can’t do with a lot of people, OK?” he said.
There was no immediate White House recoil against recent moves. However, Raimondo’s decision to stop cars with New York license plates was ignited by the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“While the governor may have the authority to suspend some state laws and regulations to address this medical emergency, it cannot suspend the constitution,” said Steven Brown, head of ACLU Rhode Island, in a statement. “After the fourth change, a New York state license plate is simply not a likely reason that the police can stop a car and interview the driver, no matter how commendable the goal of the stop may be.”
Brown mocked the enforcement mechanism as “a blunderbuss approach that cannot be justified given its significant impact on civil liberties.”
When asked about the criticism of her order, Raimondo appeared to be prepared for a lawsuit, but also referred to officials in Washington to justify it.
“It is in line with all the guidelines that we receive from the federal government,” she said. “I have lawyers at my side who also advise me. … This is an emergency, and what is constitutional in one scenario is different from another. “
Legal experts said the governors operate in a legal gray area. All-out bans on interstate travel are likely to be unconstitutional, but the requirement that travelers be quarantined due to a real emergency could be the pattern in a legal challenge.
“Burden all government measures [the right to travel] are under strict control – which means that there must be an overriding government interest, ”said Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center at New York University. And the limits, she added, must be “the least restrictive means available”.
In this case Goitein said: “I think the courts will respect the interests of the states here very much, but you never know.”
John Yoo, who served as the senior Justice Department official during President George W. Bush’s tenure, said the governors may have access to a little-ignored passage in the constitution that can be read to empower states, goods, and possibly people inspect. Cross national borders.
The provision prohibits the imposition of duties or taxes on such movements “except as may be absolutely necessary for the execution [sic] Inspection laws. “
In fact, several states, including California, Arizona, Florida, and Hawaii, have checkpoints to carry out inspections of agricultural products that move across state borders to prevent the transmission of pests.
“We have always understood from this that the Constitution does not explicitly interfere with the state’s police powers to pass health and safety inspection laws,” said Yoo, now a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley.
Passenger cars are not normally stopped at such agricultural checkpoints, but preventing the spread of human diseases could be considered a similar, if not more pressing, requirement.
Yoo said the obvious health crisis would make it difficult for a private company or an individual to face a legal challenge. “It would be hard to win here because everyone can see the harm that can be done by people traveling from countries where the virus is spreading quickly,” he said.
However, due to the power of the federal government over international trade, Trump may be able to prevent government-imposed restrictions if he so wishes. So far there have been no signs that he wants to be so aggressive.
Most state quarantine regulations seem to take into account situations in which a state refuses to take measures that the federal government deems necessary and not a scenario in which the president believes that state governments go too far.
This is a question that could arise in the coming days if Trump encourages companies to reopen, despite the fact that the state and local authorities have ordered them to remain closed to limit the outbreak of the corona virus. Legal experts of various types said Trump was simply not empowered to override state and local officials in such matters.
“The president has no tools or powers to force companies to reopen,” said Cully Stimson of the conservative Heritage Foundation. “He cannot order the governors to lift their state quarantines or stay at home. He can provide them with data, urge them to do so, publicly request them, and the like. He has the power to withhold some funds if they do not cancel these orders, but that would be legally and politically unwise. “
Despite the tensions between the assertive stance that many states are now taking on travel and the Trump administration’s laissez-fair approach, none of the governors who announced new restrictions seemed interested in discussing the issue with Trump to get involved.
In fact, DeSantis praised the government’s voluntary guidelines sent to states.
Baker, a Republican, offered a view directly disagreed with Trump flatly reject the president’s public endeavors to put the country back into operation by Easter.
“We won’t be operational by Easter,” said Baker.
Adam Cancryn and Arek Sarkissian contributed to this report.