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Marshall warns municipalities not to go too far in COVID-19 orders

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall speaks during a press conference on COVID-19 with Gov. Kay Ivey in April 2020. (VIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE)

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall says that municipal power must be exercised within constitutional parameters.

“As the State begins to phase out of the stay-at-home order, municipalities are wrestling with individual and, in some cases, unique decisions regarding the preservation of the health and safety of their residents,” Marshall said in a statement. “In light of today’s announcement, some municipalities have already expressed their intent to impose or maintain more restrictive orders than the State. Though Alabama law grants municipalities broad ‘police powers’ when it comes to protecting the public health and safety, these powers must be exercised within constitutional parameters. Municipalities are thus strongly advised to carefully balance the constitutional implications of imposing and enforcing more restrictive safety measures against the need for such measures. As case law tells us, the broadness of these police powers is not a license to abuse them.”

The City of Birmingham released an ordinance requiring that all residents wear masks or face coverings when on public outside of their homes.

Marshall sent a letter to Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin in which he warned that the order could eventually be declared unconstitutional.

“There are potential liability with the enforcement of this,” Marshall told WBRC Fox 6’s Jonathan Hardison “My concern is that the enforcement of this could be unconstitutional in some ways.”

“We have received multiple complaints over the last few days,” Marshall explained.

Woodfin responded to Marshall by sending him his own letter in which he argued that City has had legal counsel go through this and “They believe that it is effective, practical and also legal.”

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“We are making the city aware that there is liability related to the enforcement of this,” Marshall said. “For this to be enforceable there needs to be a direct connection to public health.” “We also identified the fact that the city is exceeding the CDC recommendations. If somebody ever challenges this that could be problematic.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has issued a new “Safer at Home” order for the state that allowed certain retail businesses to reopen as long as they limited the building to 50 percent occupancy or less. Other businesses and venues were to remain closed.

Harbison asked Marshall what his biggest concerns with that order are.

“Our principal concern right now relates to our Churches and houses of worship and to make sure that the act by Dr. Harris is going to be deemed constitutional in how it is enforced statewide,” Marshall said.

Marshall said that for citizens who believe that the orders are overly broad or unconstitutional, “There are vehicles that they can challenge them, and those are our courts.”

Birmingham has also put in place a curfew from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.

To see the full interview with Fox 6:

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Authorities claim that the restrictions on individual liberties, on businesses, and on churches are necessary to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Thus far the global coronavirus pandemic has infected 3,507,557 people and killed 245,243 people including 67,494 Americans.

President Donald Trump and the nation’s governors, on the advice of public health authorities, issued orders forcing an economic shutdown in order to fight the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus strain, SARS-CoV-2, that causes COVID-19. Governors are beginning to reopen their economies in a phased approach based on the recommendations of the White House and their own judgements.

Written By

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.



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