5/12/2020Kentucky: Federal Judge Asked To Overturn Virus Scare Driving Ban
Federal judge issued an order over the weekend allowing the Kentucky attorney general to challenge the state ban on interstate travel.
Kentucky's elected officials are battling in federal court over the government's right to ban travel during a virus scare. On one side, Governor Andy Beshear (D) says the prohibition is essential for public safety. On the other, Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) says the governor's directive is unconstitutional. In an order Saturday, Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove sided partially with Beshear in throwing out all of the plaintiffs in the case -- besides Cameron -- on procedural grounds.
In March, Beshear issued an order prohibiting all interstate travel, except for a limited number of purposes pre-approved by the government. Several motorists sued, and Cameron joined the effort to overturn the order.
"Kentuckians have a fundamental and constitutional right to freely travel from one state to another," Cameron explained in a statement last month. "While the spread of Covid-19 requires Kentuckians to follow CDC recommendations for social distancing and use caution when traveling, the governor's order is overly broad by banning nearly all travel. If the governor is going to ask Kentuckians to surrender their constitutional right to freely travel as part of the fight against Covid-19, such a restriction must be narrowly tailored. The sweeping scope of his travel ban, if left unchecked, creates a dangerous precedent."
Judge Tatenhove pointed out the novelty of the situation, and acknowledged that as a state official, Cameron has standing while ordinary motorists do not.
"Federal courts rarely encounter lawsuits brought by one state official against another," the judge wrote in his weekend order. "Kentucky law could not be clearer on the issue of which state officer has the power to sue on behalf of the state in the present circumstances: it is the attorney general. From a standing perspective, the rare procedural posture before the court is appropriate -- the attorney general may proceed with his suit."
Beshear acknowledges that citizens have a constitutional right to travel, but he insists this right must be reasonably restricted to prevent the spread of disease. The court found that the ordinary motorists could not sue because they were too vague when they said they had plans to travel to nearby states to visit family. Beshear later modified his order using more permissive language to avoid legal problems.
"Certain constraints are unavoidable -- both in the federal court system and in everyday life," Judge Tatenhove concluded. "While this case mainly concerns government actions that constrain everyday life, the ability of the respective parties to move forward as plaintiffs is decided by another, more established constraint: Article III standing."
After throwing the motorists off the case, the court ordered the case to proceed with the attorney general leading the case. A copy of the order is available in a 300k PDF file at the source link below.