Are we really going to allow restrictions on interstate travel?

Last month we discussed reports of Maryland State Police and National Guard units being employed to stop cars with New York license plates and discourage them from entering their state. Travelers were warned that they had to agree to quarantine themselves for fourteen days if they proceeded into Maryland. While the intention was to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the implications for the constitutional rights of citizens were alarming, to say the least.

Rather than being abandoned, this trend has actually expanded to many other spots around the nation. The Washington Post reports that multiple states are engaging in these types of shakedown tactics. State troopers in both Florida and Texas are forcing travelers with out of state license plates to sign forms promising to go into quarantine for two weeks or face possible fines or even jail time. They are also receiving ominous warnings to “be prepared” for a follow-up visit to ensure they are complying.

Some of these travel restrictions are even being put in place for intrastate travel. At the beginning of the Florida bridge that takes you out to the Keys, troopers are demanding some form of ID showing that you live in the Keys or you get turned around and sent back where you came from. Some legal experts are describing these restrictions as being both unprecedented and unconstitutional. And now, multiple people have filed lawsuits to curb this behavior by state governments.

Six residents from Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina who say they weren’t allowed to use their second homes in the Outer Banks filed a lawsuit against the county last week alleging the closed border is unconstitutional because it discriminates against out-of-state citizens.

“Just because you have a state of emergency does not mean that the government can suspend all your constitutional rights,” said Chuck Kitchen, a Raleigh lawyer representing the property owners. “You’re seeing that across the country. It’s pretty straightforward. My clients just want to get to the property they own.”

Another property owner, Denny Lawver said his family would like to socially distance in their condo in Rodanthe while enjoying the Outer Banks’ magnificent sunsets.

Most of the people involved in that lawsuit fall into what will likely be considered a special category. They are residents of one state or community who also own a vacation home in another. As taxpayers in the place they were attempting to travel to, their right to be there shouldn’t be questioned. But we also shouldn’t stand for these types of restrictions even if you don’t own any real estate in the region.

We can, as a nation, restrict access to our country by non-citizens from foreign lands if we wish. They have no inherent right to be in the United States and if we believe they pose a threat, including as carriers of a disease, such restrictions should be allowed. But United States citizens who are not otherwise breaking the law have freedom of movement as a default. If you want to go visit relatives, take a vacation or simply go driving around for no reason at all, that’s your right.

We’re taking as many precautions as possible to slow the spread of the virus, but we shouldn’t blithely stand by and allow the novel coronavirus to be an excuse for unlimited executive power at the expense of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. A line has to be drawn somewhere. Warning travelers about social distancing requirements is one thing. Setting up roadblocks and demanding that people explain their “crime” of legally driving a car or forbidding entry to particular communities is another matter entirely. It sets a terrible precedent and it shouldn’t be allowed.

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