States impose new restrictions on travelers from New York
States are pulling back the welcome mat for travelers from the New York area, which is the epicenter of the country’s coronavirus outbreak, but some say at least one state’s measures are unconstitutional. Governors in Texas, Florida, Maryland and South Carolina this week ordered people arriving from the New York area —including New Jersey and Connecticut — and other virus hot spots to self-quarantine for at least 14 days upon arrival.
Connecticut officials have also pleaded with New Yorkers and others from out of state to avoid visiting unless absolutely necessary. But, in the most dramatic steps taken to date, Rhode Island State Police on Friday began pulling over drivers with New York plates so that National Guard officials can collect contact information and inform them of a mandatory, 14-day quarantine.
Gov. Gina Raimondo ratcheted up the measures Friday afternoon, announcing she’ll also order the state National Guard to go door-to-door in coastal communities starting this weekend to find out whether any of the home’s residents have recently arrived from New York and inform them of the quarantine order. The Democrat had already deployed the guard to bus stations, train stations and the airport to enforce the executive order, which also applies to anyone who has traveled to New York in the last 14 days. “I know it’s unusual. I know it’s extreme and I know some people disagree with it,” she said Friday, adding that she has consulted with state lawyers. “If you want to seek refuge in Rhode Island, you must be quarantined.” Raimondo maintains she’s within her emergency powers to impose the measures, but the American Civil Liberties Union has called it an “ill-advised and unconstitutional plan.”
Governors have the authority to suspend some state laws and regulations in a state of emergency, but they can’t just suspend the Constitution, argued Steven Brown, head of the ACLU’s Rhode Island chapter. “Under the Fourth Amendment, having a New York state license plate simply does not, and cannot, constitute ‘probable cause’ to allow police to stop a car and interrogate the driver, no matter how laudable the goal of the stop may be,” he said.
It’s the latest worry for civil rights and libertarian groups already concerned about fundamental freedoms being tossed out in the name of public health.
New York has more than 40,000 cases and more than 500 deaths from the virus, by far the most in the country.