Republicans call for federal inquiry into state shutdown

Executive orders violate Constitution, legislators say
May 25, 2020

Three Delaware legislators have asked for a federal review of executive orders that shut down the state economy, and they are seeking an opinion as to whether civil and constitutional rights of citizens have been violated.

Sent May 19 to U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr, the letter lists Gov. John Carney’s executive order issued March 12, which started the shutdown of schools, businesses and public gatherings. Over the following two months, the order was modified 18 times with more restrictions.

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, Sen. Dave Wilson, R-Bridgeville, and Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, are asking Barr to review the executive order and modifications because they believe citizens’ rights have been violated under the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

“The governor of Delaware has usurped the authority of the citizens of the state of Delaware and the legislative and judicial branches of government,” the letter states. “It must be noted that the determinations made by the governor are not supported by a rational connection or nexus to the proclaimed state of emergency. The exercise by the governor of his power has been done in violation of the protections guaranteed by the United States Constitution.”

Briggs King said they do not want to file a lawsuit, but they would like an opinion with some clarification about whether the pervasive economic shutdown is legal.

“I don't want to go the route of filing a lawsuit for violation of this or that or the other in the state. I think the thing to do is to ask if these orders violate anything in the Constitution,” she said.

For example, she said, Carney's guidance on religious worship states congregants who are 65 or older should not attend service. “Age-based alone, that's discriminatory. You couldn't do that anywhere else,” she said.

Pettyjohn said under the church guidelines, many churches will still not be able to operate. “For a lot of your older population, that's what they do. They go to church. That's part of their routine; that's a very important part of their life,” he said.

Pettyjohn said he is hoping a federal decision on the constitutionality of Carney's executive orders will prompt a discussion.

“We need to know whether the actions taken were acceptable,” he said. “We're functioning with one branch of the government now.”

Pettyjohn said they are seeking guidance so that if a pandemic shutdown happens in the fall or at a later date, officials have a better idea how to handle it.

“We're operating without a playbook here,” Pettyjohn said.

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