On Monday evening, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee issued a stay-home order to all residents for two weeks. But what does this mean for us specifically? And more importantly, how far can the government go to slow down the spread of Covid-19?
According to Gov. Inslee’s new order, “essential” businesses such as grocery stores, medical facilities, restaurants, and gas stations are still allowed to remain operational. Essential physical activities, such as running, are also allowed as long as participants practice social distancing.
Still, such restrictions beg the question: what happens if we don’t follow these rules? Theoretically, nothing. Self-quarantine is seen as more of a social responsibility than anything, and Governor Inslee hasn’t released any official consequences that can come back to haunt any rulebreakers.
That’s not the case in other states though. According to The Hill, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal reinforced his state’s “stay at home” order, saying that law enforcement will be on the lookout and take action against groups and businesses that violate these restrictions. “Law enforcement officers will have to break that party up, and there will be criminal consequences. The time for warnings is over.” he said at a press conference on Monday.
But let’s look at things at an even wider scale: how much power can someone like President Trump wield in this time of crisis, and what can he do to you? To answer that, we have to look at what the effects of a “State of Emergency” does to our American Federalism.
When the United States becomes embroiled in a war or any other situation that puts the entire nation at tremendous risk, the President suddenly gains a significant amount of power. Being Commander in Chief among other things, the President can easily leap over legal hurdles to order quick action amongst the National Guard and other executive organizations. We saw this during World War II, where President Roosevelt sent tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans into internment camps.
“In terms of States of Emergency, the law gets kind of… mushy.” says Patrick Holmes, Bothell High’s sole AP Government teacher. “You see things happen after 9/11, you see things that happened at other times that people allowed that ability to go above and beyond what is permissible.”
So by all means, it’s entirely possible that President Trump can completely lock down the country, or jail citizens for breaking quarantine. In times of an emergency, the government is expected to respond to issues much more quickly, and that comes at a cost.
“There’s some discussion on whether or not he has that full ability, but I don’t think anyone would challenge him.” Holmes explains over the Zoom call. “If he locks down Washington under a State of Emergency, I don’t think anyone would challenge him.”
So knowing what powers lie under the guise of Trump’s response to the pandemic, tread carefully when stepping out of the house.