Returning to our continuing series on the limits of executive authority during times of declared emergencies, there is yet another potentially disturbing story coming to us from the state of Kentucky. A Circuit Court judge there by the name of Angela Bisig has begun issuing orders for ankle monitors to be attached to persons who have been exposed to the novel coronavirus and subsequently refused to observe self-quarantine measures. One person, in particular, a man only being referred to by the initials D.L. lives with an individual who has tested positive for the virus and another who is presumed to be positive. But despite that fact, D.L. has reportedly been leaving home “often.” This resulted in the order for him to wear the tracking device for two weeks. (The Hill)
About a week ago, D.L. was ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days, the amount of time it takes for an infected individual to exhibit symptoms of the coronavirus. Family members, however, said he leaves his home often.
Bisig ordered the state’s Department of Corrections to place an ankle monitor on D.L., who will face criminal charges if they leave the house again.
CNN cites local outlet WDRB as reporting that other Louisville residents were ordered to don ankle monitors as well after they refused to self-isolate. These individuals were also reported as either having the coronavirus or being in contact with the coronavirus.
It appears that D.L. isn’t the only one acting in a reckless fashion. A separate group of younger people reportedly threw a “coronavirus party” which resulted in at least one person testing positive for the virus.
You can call such actions inconsiderate, reckless or even stupid if you wish. But once again, stupidity still isn’t a crime. Or at least it wasn’t until we ran into a national crisis like this and governors began trampling on any number of constitutional rights, including restricting the free movement of citizens.
I’m not discounting the importance of having people follow these instructions intended to slow the spread of the disease. You don’t need to look any further than New York City to see how quickly things can spiral out of control when people don’t want to contribute to minimizing the spread of the virus. But at the same time, the idea of locking an ankle monitor on someone for the crime of leaving their house and throwing them in jail if they don’t comply can’t simply be accepted as the new normal.
We have governors and even mayors issuing orders these days that are resulting in the closure of gun shops, the shuttering of churches, mosques and synagogues and entire communities being converted into ghost towns full of hermits who barely leave their homes. True, these actions are being taken in the name of promoting the greater good and saving lives. But almost without exception, these orders are being issued without the appropriate legislative bodies passing a singe law or warning the executives in question that such actions must be limited in both scope and duration to the greatest extent possible.
I am reminded of the Powell Doctrine that came into vogue during the runup to the first gulf war. Before taking any drastic action that will have lasting consequences, always make sure that you’ve defined not only the necessity of your actions but the scope of them as well. All of these sweeping executive orders should have an expiration date baked into them from the start, with a defined way of knowing when the crisis has passed and the orders will no longer be in effect. That’s not happening in all cases yet and legislatures at all levels should be prepared to intervene and demand those protections for their citizens.